Gardening a Library on the Hill

A middle-age, middle-class, midlling eccentric woman on gardening, libraries, crafts, books, liberal Episcopalian dilemmas, Chestnut Hill and who knows what may take my fancy.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Good things coming, Good things here, Good things leaving

Its almost time for the black-eyed Susans, so common, so bright, so commonly, brightly magnificent. Also the Pee-Wee Hydranger is getting ready to pop. For the moment it's all just small greenish-creamy inverted cones, but every day the cones are alittle whiter and larger. Whereas last year I had only 5 blooms, the small tree still being new-planted, this year the bloom count seems to be hovering towards uncountability. Delicious. Joe Pie is pinking up and some of the phlox is forming buds.

The white hardy hibiscus, a bonus plant for joining the Hardy Plant society last year, has started blooming a gentle white. The kerria, which seems to have decided to keep the last of the St John's Wort in yellow company, has perked up with a few stray blossums. Some of the cleome buds are sporting color. The nasturciums, which I thought would be peach (yup, the old peach debackle once again getting my hackles up,) is a glowering salmon, which I hope will work anyway (hah!) I finally finally have long-lost but beloved zinnias (another commonly and brightly magnificent, archetypal, childhood flower) in the only place where they can get enough sun ... a window box which I should have planted with vines but, what the hey, -- its my garden and I'm not wasting that sun.

The nicest suprise of all has been in the back in a small patch I'd mostly given up on. Seems it gets as much semi-sun as I had once hoped, and the drying tree roots have even been a plus for once. For last year I planted there one of my echiums(yes, I know, they like full sun and sandier soil than I've got -- but I'm a sucker for blue flowers and have that ridicoulously Sagittarian attititude that with cheap seeds, why not give what you want a wack-... you never know when luck might reward such an intrepidly clueless yocal. And ohhh, indeed, it has.)

I had thought I had lost the little frail-looking buggers over the wet winter. In fact, their presence this spring was so negligable that I forgot their possible existence. But in this spot was an interesting weed that didn't look like any weed I knew, so I decided to let it go. What I got was a sprawling but healthy, blooming echium vulgare, viper's bugloss, its fronds intermingling with a pale pink yarrow, black-eyed Susan foliage and the other great, unexpected survior -- a Alcea rugosa, hairy Hollyhock. Wow.

The hollyhock is a lovely soft yellow, just the sort I like. I tried this type because it is reputed to be less susceptable to rust than the more usual Alcea rosea. Well, I've already removed two slightly warted, spotty leaves, so it obviously isn't impervious. But still, so far so good, so I'm happy. It looks great with the echium. And what a wonderful suprise.

Last of all, the Acanthus spinosus, spiny bears-breeches, I'd planted ... ?4 years ago? (it was early, very early in my garden-making,) has sent up a flowering shoot. I had given up hope for blossum and reconciled myself to its spreading girth as just a wildly cool foliage plant. But now, emererging from the glossy thorny leaves, is a spike of mauve tipped white. YAAAAYYYYYYY EFFFFING YYYYAYYYY! (Now if only the huge Angelica archangelica in the front would also flower. One of these years. Maybe.)

Right next to the Acanthus is a Nicotiana Sylvestris in bloom. It's big, smooth, spoony, light green leaves are in contrast to the Acanthus with its narly, snarly, deep dark green, fingery foliage. And the different white flowers, both upright, one so fine and feathery, the other more solid and calibrated, should be just as pleasing. I didn't plan it, just planted both where I thought they would like.

Good things are leaving. Larkspurs time is up, as is the St John's wort, Jupiters beard, and the astranias. Some of the roses are considering a small rebloom, which has even started in the front, it will be a sporadic but precious. Then they will take a bit of a rest, getting ready for the fall show. The betony needs cutting back; I may get repeat if I'm diligent about this. I have gotten a bit of nice rebloom on the valerian but its mostly done.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

The Hummingbird

I am proving as bad at keeping up this blog as I've been at keeping up garden journals. But here's the latest bloom:

To update the summer:
Late lillies and hydrangers
Rest round the masterwort,
While a red spate of monarda
Shines fat to court the stranger,
The starry, questing hummer
Faring this far north.

At first it seemed a moth,
Whirring brownish wings,
Out to browse through day,
Night too short to dream.
But then there was a body,
Its beak seeking the bloom,
-( candle of sweet fire)-
To drink, and to festoon.

If Willie Morris'd seen this
He'd quick design a lamp:
Its base monarda-tuffed,
To enshrine the wick.
Then eight small hummers hovering
Camped out about, above,
Their sterling beaks peeked down
To reach the flower's lure,
Gleaning the love that all love seeks,
And giving back in round.

The birds' quick wings would pillar
Up a lacecap's mop,
With inner light illuminating
Each stop and start and crop.
The red monarda holding up
The honor of the light,
To ever after prosper
In nature and in dight:
In poet's book and study,
In lover's soul and sight,
In God who makes of every wight
Who makes of earth delight.

Other open flowers are: coneflowers, tickseed, daisies, St Johnswort, larkspur, annual blue woodruff, a few fall astors I didn't trim back earlier in the season, hosta, the first of the red annual sage I started from seed(thou the blue, 'Blue Denim' I think, has been going for a month,) calandula pot marigolds, astilibe pumila, Jupiter's beard, catchfly and butterfly bush. Joe Pie weed and a phlox maculata on the side are just beginning. The Johnny-jump-ups, foxgloves, Lancaster geranium and ladies mantle are all towards their end but still present; the Brooksides geranium got cut back last week so there's not much to it now. Corydalis lutea is still going strong. There's a second bloom on the western white bleeding heart. The yellow bleeding hearts vine that overwintered(thou its not supposed to) and the amazing clematis tex-I'm not sure which one, are still going, have been going for quite a while and will probobly keep on going for quite a while. Great plants.

The "peach" impatiens I started are doing fine, but they are really a bright Galahad red, (which is what I call a warm red just a clear smigeon lighter than true red,) -- not peach at all. Which is a stronger color than I'd planned on and is therefore distoring my apricot-buff(the calandulas, neat, unusual color,) lots of peach, alittle coral, just a few, very small dots of true red, lots of pale yellow, some blue, some lavender, small amounts of violet and lots of purple with, of course, mediating green, color scheme for the side.

(The amount of each color in a scheme matters to me. There is a big difference between the amount of red you get from the feathery mast of a single sage compared to the big, spreading blotch of a highly-floriferous impatiens.) But so far this change is distorting things in an acceptable way, so the Galahad red is staying for now. But next year plan to find seed for peach-colored impatiens, that is, impatiens that are actually peach-colored.

It's the tall bright yellow tagetes marigolds all clumped together on the side that have been my big big mistake -- at least the way I first planted them. Their yellow is a greeny yellow, not golden, a brassy, dense yellow that shines hysterically -- like a rabid hyena contorting under a sickle moon(Is that a Rousseau painting?) Ick. So -- being cheap as dirt, instead of just ditching them, I moved 4 of them into the much greener front. Here they may not get enough sun, in which case they will die, which is fine. Or they will manage to bloom and their density will be broken up by all the foliage and lesser light. I think they might even look good, giving some drama where now there is just pleasent scenery. I planted 3 around one spot, with another a bit away alone -- the pattern of something that might have self-seeded. The other two I left far from each other on the side. Alone, without brethern, their color is minimized, and they are able to merge into the medieval tapestry, mille fleur look, I try for.

Monday, June 12, 2006

A Shakespeare Garden

Below is the text of a post I added to a listserve for staff at my library. We are talking about renovating Central and what to do about the strip of littered lawn outside here that is dominated by a large Shakespeare memorial. A dark, tall plith of marble, the memorial is topped by two figures; Touchstone laughing and Hamlet weeping. Below is engraved the first two liones of the "All the World's a Stage" speech.

Philadelphia Shakespeare Memorial:

"Shakespeare may have been done to death but that doesn't matter because he's immortal. We have the great statue out there, a far better work than anything we could buy today, we have the tradition, we have a celebration of the greatest poet and psychologist our language has ever produced. Now and in a hundred years everyone will still have heard of Shakespeare, but the names Barrymore and Bacon may not be quite as resonant. To have the Performing Arts section named after the Barrymores, or the Architecture or Urban Planning Section after Bacon, that would be cool. But the gateway to the entire library? That should have something more magnificent that says that this is a very very important place, -- we want something immortal.

"The Horticultural Society would probably be willing to plant up that area with a Shakespeare garden, the plants mentioned in his works. NY has a wonderful Shakespeare garden, as does Brooklyn. Why should Philly lack? Philly, the home of Furness, the editor of the famous Variorum edition (which, for fund-raising purposes, would tie in with U Penn and the Furness family. There is also the Shakespeare Society. Perhaps Harold Bloom is looking for a place to bequeath his book industry fortune?) What better place for such a garden, adorned with gorgeous poetic quotes, than in front of a library?

"My worry is that Shakespeare, who exemplifies the best our language, our art, our words, can achieve, will be shoved aside for some worthy but more minor talent who is perceived as more politically correct. Or a corporate sponsor who would give it a name with no intrinsic link to what goes on in here. This place is about the virtue of communication, and mostly communication through language. Shakespeare brought more words into Modern English than any other author has ever done. He changed the way we talk and think about ourselves and others. People who have never read him have nevertheless been enormously influenced by him. He is our father, the father of our mother tongue.

"Ahhh-- I know how old-fashioned I must sound, how much out of touch with the whole dumbing-down trend. How dare I champion a dead white male? Consider this then as small, still voice crying in the wilderness. To put together a Shakespeare garden outside the library would be a deed of grace, elegance, wisdom and panache. It would show the world that we are serous about what we do in here. That we are an institution that recognizes its roots because the past is our prologue."

Definition of "Shakespeare Gardens" Wikipedia:

NY Shakespeare Garden:
Brooklyn Shakespeare Garden:

Thursday, May 18, 2006

the Acts of the Columbines

It breathes cliche to say that as you tend the garden, the garden tends you. But it's a truism that inspires repeat because the truth behind it can't otherwise be expressed,. So we have a cliche, a label, that hides a mystery, not in the sense of a crime, but in the sense of something more than itself. Gardening can produce in the gardener a strange inner tingle, a feeling touched with awe and peace, but also something more elusive. There is no common definition or explanation of this sensation, nor of what this sensation portends. Yet gardener after gardener attests to the fact that while they are pottering about, developing the garden, the garden is developing them.

If experiences had shape and color, if there were objects in the outer world that corralated to our inner life, the experience I am trying to describe would, I think, look like, feel like and flicker in the wind like, a columbine. An inticate pattern, capable of many variations. A flowery structure no human could consiously design, only dream, and then imperfectly remember but with inexplicable longing and for a very long time. A creature of wings, flairs, curls and pillowey, quilted stars arranged in an arching candelabra that rises up from its leafy nest. Of the most delicate colors or the most garish. A folksy, elegent flower, proliferating on many continents, easy to grow from seed, hardy, ephemeral, self-reliant, companionable, dear as the roses, iris, phlox, morning glories, prairie plants and daisies that form the heart of a garden.

Well-- thats what the Aquilegia my front yard looked like to me. Three are Aquilegia canadensis, breathes of fire, each flower shading from pale starburst up through the corals into Galahad red, each plant with ten to twenty to thirty flowers at once, a songburst of patterned fire. Then, to the side, in with honesty, a Lenten rose and masses of ferny corydalis lutea, an Aquilegia vulgaris 'Tower Blue." It is the color of woodsmoke, ozone, a delicate periwinkle blue, touched by small pale pale green accents, shades so rarified it is astonishing that the flowers are solid at all, that they don't just float away or disapear when you look at them. But they don't and so you keep looking.

There are non-miraculous looking columbines, ones with muddy colors, dull forms, needless details. Just as there are gardeners who manage to garden, to put in their plants and keep them alive, who are never really touched by what they do. They could be running on a treadmill or watching TV. But many gardeners, most gardeners, are not like that. By giving order to nature they learn nature's order and this grows inside them and changes them. A life behind life, within life, the true life of our planet, the pattern that makes pattern, knits into their consiousness and brings moments of awareness that this pattern is tending them, generating in them a feeling without name, of what they are becoming.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

May Day Succession

The last of the Kerria is holding on, and I am wondering how much to prune it back by when the final flowers give out. I would like rebloom, especially when the nearby St John's Wort starts up, but since I've no experience with this it will be a crap shoot.

The first tree peony bud has openned. For the first time since I planted it the buds have formed over an extended period of time, and so will bloom over an extended period of time instead of all at once. It was one of the first perennials/shrub I planted, a barish stick bought cheaply at the Phila Garden Show. The first two year no blooms, then two, then four and this year it looks like there will be 7, thou only the first two promise to be gargantionally showy. This one suprised me when I came home yesterday. It seems to have transformed from fat bud into a large bowl-shaped flower in under 8 hours. To say it is lovely is superfulous-- it is a tree peony flower. What else could it be?

Last year the 4 buds all bloomed for Pentecost, which seemed right. But this year Easter was earlier so this flower welcomes Mayday instead. The smaller blooms, however, may hold off till the feast of fire and air. It's name is Hana Kisoi and there is a pic of the flower at It seems to like it's dapply shaded home, this year all sorts of new branches came up, hence all the new buds. Its growing strongly and the open flower has an odor that I really love -- it is sublte, spicey and unexpected. It will be good walking past it for the fortnight or so that it may last (less if there's rain or wind, thou I'm the peony-loving sort to position an unbrella or garbage can over it on dire days.) If enough blooms are open at once the scent may carry far enough out to suprise people. That would be cool. People don't tend to think of tree peonies as fragrent.

Columbines are also starting to open up, thou the few that remain are a bit of a sore spot for me. Last year I started a whole lot from seed, grew them to decent size then planted them out. 2/3s of them, however, seem to have fallen victim to whatever varmints it is who are digging up and/or eating anything small and tender in the garden. Its driving me nuts. It seems like half of the hardy annuals I've planted out have also fallen prey to these creatures. Mice, voles, moles, gophers, racoons? Squirrels burying nuts? Don't know, but everyday there are fresh holes in the garden. I will probobly have to think of trapping or repelling or poisening soon, none of which pleases me. But I am frustrated. All that work and hope and life for naught much more than a quick meal. Well, they have to live too: I just wish they'd live somewhere else. NIMG.

Next year I want more money plants, which, if I am lucky, will happen without too much effort as they may self-seed. A kind Hardy Plant Society person sent me some wonderful seeds last fall, including varigated money plant. Its a great looking plant and works well to balance the late tulips. I have one by a whitish lenten rose, lots of lavender-blue woodland phlox, some golden varigated myrtle, a clump of golden hakone grass and what I hope will be a blue columbine (but which -should- have been 3 blue columbines.) Both the varigated leaf and the rose-lavender clusters of bloom of the money plant work well here. So I'll start a whole bunch more, overplant, and pray that only some get thinned out by the resident varmints.

In back the ragged Robin has started and I wish I'd planted more of that too. They are cool in their lax(well, there is a fair amount of shade back there) habit and elegently ragged flower. They are like a perfectly-torn, well-unravelled pair of jeans, only in a deep, shredded pink. Their casuallness would look neat around the florid, fluted, folded, crepey, fat and happy peonies -- a great textural contrast. I'd like to say next year, but since the ragged Robins are biennials, I'll have to plan for the year after next. Still, it could be lovely, and possible -- as the varmints don't seem to like either plant.

I have been gardening now for about 5 years, but am still very much a beginner. I feel like I'm only starting to get a real sense of what flourishes and blooms well, and when, and where, in my clayey, treeroot-infested, varmint-ridden, weedy, slightly dappled, very dappled, heavily dappled and fully shaded zone 6 or 7 (depending on the wind and proximity to the warm, schist with reflective mica house) garden. The garden I really want to make is therefore still well in the future: this is just the experimental laboritory for now, though a well-loved and well-enjoyed one. But will that garden of the future ever actually materilize or will I always feel I have more to learn before putting it in place? Knowing me, the perpetual learner, thats not unlikely. So will it then, like the present garden/laboritory, just gradually appear, made up of a thousand small jobs done on a thousand different days in a thousand different aesthetic moods?- So that one day I will just look up and realize that somehow, even for all the not making it, it has been made.

One morning this spring I stood in amazement before the garden. Its was one of those salubrius days when everything looks perfect. And the garden looked perfect. And it felt as if this wonderous garden had just somehow sprung up, from Zeus's head perhaps, or a garden porn magazine, but obviously with no help whatsoever from any merely mortal hand or intelligence. Surely I couldn't have created such a thing, no, not me, me with my not-enough-time and shallow watering habits and clumsey tendency to sit on fragile plants and inability to tell weeds from flowers (thou not columbines, I know columbines.) Not the clod who buys unsuitable plants and then resorts to begging cuttings from green-thumbed neighbors and flinching seed capsules from Wave Hill. Not the ignorant soul with ravenging varmints, late plantings and unmulched beds. I do so much wrong, have a plant collector's skewed sense of garden design (a la, the more the merrier, and just put it in wherever it will like, and there is actually a whole spare inch of bare space, (Oh how would Wayne Winterowd and Joe Eck, two of my gardening gurus, be ashamed, deeply, deeply ashamed, of what I have done despite their best advice.)) No, not I, not I at all, could have created, or more accuratley, subcreated, this pice of wonder. It must have been someone else who had a clue.

But, the truth is, that with alot of help from wise garden writers (add Lloyd, Armitage, Chatto, Druse, Shenk, Darke and the Dutch or is it Swedish guy who's name I can't pronounce or even visulize enough to mispell as there are too many vowels and diacritical marks at the start of it, well add all them to the list of usual suspects,) helpful neighbors and friends, a long-suffering family and Dame Kind herself, who, of course does all the actual meaningful work, and, yes, God who kindly patterned Logos within her, well, I did do it, didn't I? Somehow, by putting my head down, cooperating with whatever bigger picture came my way and just doing one thing at a time, it was indeed this falliable bit of stolidy flesh that subcreated an overall vista too intricate, too multi-dimensional, too living for my mere measly consiousness to have alone concieved.

Which is pretty cool when you stop and think about it. We can do more than we can imagine when we just do what we love, one step at a time. So my future garden may indeed get done -- by moving this plant here and realizing I have too much arrow-shaped foliage there and puttering here and in all the other theres as well, until, well, its come together.

Not that I wouldn't want to consider altering it by then, knowing more and my taste, being time-bound, having changed somewhat.

But then life's pretty much usually like that, isn't it? And I for one, am grateful it is.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Easter Succession

This was written in mid-April, and Ive been so busy I've never elevated it past draft status. But I do want to keep this up as a garden blog, at least so I can have a clue next year about when stuff flowers, so here it is ... way late.


The dafs are done, beheaded so that the bulbs can muscle up for next year. Nevertheless, bright yellow dances on the green, thanks to an unfurling Kerria and tight woodland poppies. The paler yellow of the epimideum is almost spent but still nicely balanced by the pale blue Valarie Finnis muscari, a woefully underused bulb(I'd buy gobs if I had the funds. The deeper blue muscari can be too dark sometimes. And the shade of the Finnis muscari is almost unbelievably perfect, like small blue castles sited on the horizen and painted in some book of hours, or bits of morning sky come down, a sweet blue for the sweetest time of year.) There are also yellow tulips, since tulips are rising up in all the warm shades. And especially the lady tulips, Tulipa clusiana. Oh how I love them, perfect blooms for a flowerty mead, delicate, hardy and valient as, (hmmm, I'm about to embaress myself here,(yet oddly I continue)) -- unicorns (this is where DH's voice breaks in, simpering in falsetto, -- "oh, but I llloooovvve unicorns." (from the great fun, stupid (but not so stupid) movie "Dodgeball.")) Are you following all this? Really?

But don't hold that last trope against these tulips as they are capable of rising above the most inept, inapt simile. They are old-fashioned looking, delicate, yet strong enough to come back and increase every year. Their stems curve at the least puff of wind, their starry flowers open to sun and close into drawn-out knots when shaded. They are quick in the old sense of the word quick: lively, vital, responsive. Their long thin stems and delicate flowers look to have inspired the Art Nouveau whiplash; even when still, which is not often, they seem moving.

Next to them the cheap modern tulips I bought 20 to bag seem almost stolid, all thick, unyielding stems and bloated flowers. Well, actually, thats not quite true. Some of the modern tulips are lovely, especially the bicolors and those with graceful heads. Nevertheless, it is to the clusianas that my eye keeps returning. They are bicolored and lily-petaled -- either ivory alternating with Galahad Red (the shade right on the cusp between pink and red,) or pale yellow with Galahad Red.

They grow in plentiful clumps and are uncommon because not much marketed. They are botanical tulips, tulips almost the way God made them, only moderetly improved, not sterile and not patented. So no one will make hoards of cash if they become popular and, for some odd reason, they are not popular. They are just beautiful, economical and fleeting.

Here is some potted history from:

"The main flow of the tulip story in Holland actually begins with a botanist named Carolus Clusius, working at the University of Leiden. He had worked in Prague and Vienna, mostly with medicinal herbs. But in 1593, he was appointed “Hortulanus”, the contemporary title for head botanist, at the University of Leiden’s now famous “Hortus”, the first botanical garden in Western Europe. However, his “tulip connection” actually began during his earlier projects in Vienna. There, Clusius had met a man called De Busbecq who was the ambassador to the court of the Sultan Suleiman in Constantinople, the seat of the Ottoman Empire. DeBusbecq gave Clusius some tulip bulbs from Central Asia, and he brought those bulbs with him to Holland. The rest, literally, is history.

"Clusius was mostly interested in the tulip’s scientific importance, probably hoping to find medicinal uses for the bulbs. However, since people in Holland had seen the famous drawings, some became more interested in the flowers as money-makers for the developing ornamental floral trade. Clusius fueled the fire by being very secretive and protective with his bulbs, and after awhile, the public was so determined to have the tulips that some were even stolen from his gardens."

Well, they easy to buy now, and will perhaps become more common.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Chanticleer I

Sunday was my first visit to Chanticleer, a "pleasure garden" in Wayne, PA. I had resisted going even thou almost every garden publication had hailed it as unique, innovative and beautiful -- a must-see. So of course the contrarian in me was suspicious. For one thing, most of the articles seemed to have concentrated on the garden's use of tropicals. Tropicals planted out for the season, tropicals in big and bigger pots, an overwelming plethora of pots and plants unable to survive, without far too much help, in our temperate, blessed gardening region. Now, I love tropicals ... in the tropics. I even like a few, easy, inexpensive tropicals in pots, but I do not like the seemingly endless parade of finicky, expensive tropicals that trendy mags and books have been pushing upon every hapless amateur gardener expert or rich enough to buy in. If nothing else, there are so, so many wonderful plants that thrive in our zone 6/7 climate, that want to grow here, that excell here -- why turn one's back on the cornocopia Dame Kind so kindly offers up?

So perhaps thats why I choose to visit Chanticleer at this time of year, well before our putative last frost date. This would save me from the tropicals. But I worried that there would not be enough going on to engage my non-gardening, easily bored hubby and termpermental, tempetous 15 year old. Hah!.

Understand, this time of year is my favorite season; it is a sort of pre-spring. Most people prefer the lushness of May or June. But right now, tall, bare, winter trees dominate the skyline. This makes for a widened sky still revealing the land's crannies and crests. The trees endure amidst this, as if they are the timeless bones of reality. Their beauty, though severe, remains exultant. In their bare honesty is their virtue.

But at their edges, emerging up from earth, comes bits of fresh, enlivening green, green that grows, careens and moves in and out of itself. Each soft, new leaf vibrates in a growing light that pulls the vegetation up into itself. And here and there, dotting the treelines like loci of delight, burst exclamations of pink, mauve, white or yellow. These colors are so intense that the light seems to have solidified itself. They are lowly, small trees and bushes, humble enough not to crowd the sky yet brilliant enough to embody it. So bloom the cherries and magnolias and pears for their briefest time. Leaf and fruit will come, as will winter and rest, but for now the flowers, the wild, wonderful flowers, are enough.

This contrast of sobriety and exuberence, a balance between tall, bare trees and small, blooming ones, gives this season a complete countanance, a face that combines the energy of youth with the wisdom of age. Its pretty cool.

But not to everyone's taste. So I entered Chanticleer wondering what such a trendy garden would offer, and if it would be sufficient to satisfy my family and, even more, to please me. Might Chanticleer be so highbrow as to eschew cherries and snub magnolias? Might garden snobs lurk amidst rarities with riotiously unpronounceble names? Would there be anything I could learn and take home with me to my own small garden?

Well, it wasn't highbrow at all. It was magnificent . It pleased me in spades. With icing on top. And whipped cream to boot. Plus cherries on top. It was the real deal. Go see for yourself.

Monday, April 03, 2006

The Sephiroth of Manhatten

My daughter and I read on Sunday at Robins Bookstore as part of Poetry Ink

I had never committed to reading in public before and the anxiety blast beforehand was extreme. In order to understand it better and maybe even lessen it, I did an open, visual meditation, letting the pictures flow to see where they would go and what I could learn. Towards the end I was standing on the top floor of my old school, looking out the window on the back staircase. And through that window I saw the diagram of the Tree of Life shaped within the island of Manhatten.

Here is a written verson of what I saw:

Kether--The Cloisters
Chokhmah--The Harlem/East Rivers?
Binah--Columbia University
(Daath)--The Resevoir
Chesed--New York Hospital
Geburah--Lincoln Center
Tipereth--Around 57th Street
Netzach--The UN
Hod--Times Square
Yesod--Greenwich Village/St Marks Pl
Malkuth-- Statue of Liberty to Wall Street

Now, along with some other information from my mediatation, this certianly did help me make sense of the anxiety. Lincoln Center, modernist temple of the performing arts, is at the place of fear and judgement, but also strength.

What was amazing to me is that I didn't have to "work" the diagram out: it was just there. And the correspondances make sense for me.

Times Square, named for the New York Times old building, is, in many ways, where worldly glory(or not) originates(and the Theatre District is, of course, on the path between here and Lincoln Center.) And the UN is where worldly accord(or not) and the possible free peace that would be humankind's greatest victory, could generate from. Greenwich Village/St Marks Place, which perhaps I should denote as Washington Square, has traditionally been a locus of the imagination. And hey-- the grad school NY University is most famous for ... film. Wall Street is, of course the fundament and the fundemental, either the bride or the prostitute, if ever there was one. Or as she appears as the Statue of Liberty.

The Cloisters has always felt to me like an otherworldy link to some greater mode of being. Maybe that being is just Europe, from whence most of it came, or maybe it's Wave Hill just over the Harlem River, or maybe its the spiritual state alluded to in the Unicorn Tapestries. I don't clearly know, but I do know what I feel and I have always felt something undefinable there. It's also where I had my first kiss, in the cloister north of the Norman Chapel, in front of a window overlooking the Hudson. This strange building, pieced together from other times and places, set on the rocky crown of the City, overlooking waters on three sides -- palisades, park and City, is somehow not really of the City, yet it very much is, and as such is also something more.

Columbia as a major university contains the flow of knowledge and energy while instilling understanding (it's also where I met my husband. Where I got together with my husband though was ... yup, the Cloisters again.) I'm unsure about the attribution of the Harlem/East River to Chochmah. It is the only one I am unsure about. There could easily be something in East Harlem(a rose in Spanish Harlem?-- it's an area I am unfamiliar with,) that is better suited. Yet the island dips in here and the river flows exceptionaly strongly. The Native Americans saw Manhatten as a land of water -- rivers, springs and creeks and the river's wild velocity (so much like the City's) is greatest in this area. And perhaps the energy of Chochmah is best represented by something always moving.

New York Hospital is part of a complex which includes med schools-- its about healing and research into healing, obvious manifestions of mercy. 57th St for Tipareth? Well-- Tiffanys is there! But also, some of the world's most beautiful stores and galleries are spread around it.

And the Resevoir for Daath? Well, its a great 'empty' expanse of caged, nonflowing water which offers no obvious passage. So many circle it but who has crossed it?

And, as someone who adores Central Park, I love that it is the manifestation of the Cental Pillar. Part of me wanted to make 57th St and the Plaza, up thru the Skating Rink, the Carousel, Sheeps Meadow, the Mall and the Angel of the Waters of Bethesda, all Tipereth. Perhaps it is, or its influence radiates strongly along that axis, which then rises up to include the Rambles, the stronghold of Belveder Castle, The Shakespeare Theatre and Garden, the playing fields of Field Days long past, the Resevoir, the Conservetory Garden and The Harlem Mere, with the major museums mostly along this axis as well(Moma and Crafts at the bottom, then the Frick, the Natural History, the Guggenheim, the Neu, the Met and Cleopatra's Needle, the Cooper Hewitt, the Jewish, the City of NY and the Historical Society all radiating off it. )

Can you tell how much I have loved the Park? And the City? Its in my heart and bones, wherever I may go. Somehow the fact that I still live near water (the Wissahickon Creek,) in a hilly community(and, if you walk New York, you know it still has its hills,) built on schist, makes sense. The geomagnetic whatever is similar, but quieted down. Just as I am quieted down from my earlier NY self. But the child is still mother to the woman.

Friday, March 31, 2006

The Succession of Spring

Ahhh, finaly getting a bloom on a Lenten rose planted as a seedling 3 years ago. The bud looks like its going to be a white flower, or maybe three white flowers if I'm lucky. And I gave in to plantlove and bought a deep maroon one. But what is startling is the state of the bluebells. Their leaves have been up for a few weeks and some of them have already formed flowers. Bluebells this early? -- with the Lenten rose only just coming out and the lungworts hardly beginning? Is this odd or normal?

I just pruned my roses, several weeks too late though I usually don't do it till now and its never felt this late before. Unmulched the euphorbia and its buds are well developed. Must get the pansies and the Johnny Jump ups in the ground but don't know when I can do it.

Do I unmulch the hydrangers and assume a spring where everything blooms in a wowingly bunched-up succession? Or am I just, as perhaps I often am, too easily amazed, amused and awed by the ever-changing, seductive wiles of Dame Kind's abudance? Have bluebells ever formed this early before? Even if they have, it all still feels mysterious and charged.

Where does this energy, all light and life, come from? Yes, I know the science and the theology as well, but still, it feels as if some ripening unknown were forming buds, buds that swell a bit larger every day. Buds that will bloom, but into what? A flower? Hardly just that. A flower yes, but more as well. But what that more is -- well-- that's whats so cool about spring's sweet succession. You may or may not find out. But still it will come and it will come again every year, a promise till that promise is finaly fully met.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Lent -- the ABC of it

A is for Arch
B is for Bishop
C is for Canterbury

"Every year as we approach Easter, we are instructed to spend some time in self-examination. The season of Lent is about penitence, and penitence always requires us to see ourselves more clearly in the light of God’s holiness and justice. Each of us must begin again at the foot of the Cross, recognising that the death of Our Lord is first and foremost my business, the result of my betrayals and sins. Only as I face this can I begin to open myself up to the news of Easter – my debt is paid, my prison doors are opened. What I could not do, God in Christ has done. When I know myself , I know my weakness; but, as St Paul says, when I know my weakness, I become strong in God’s strength, I receive in my broken self the deathless life of the Risen Lord."

This is the opening from the recent "A pastoral letter to the 38 Primates of the Anglican Communion and Moderators of the United Churches" that is accessible from Anglicans Online:

I can't help loving that the Anglican Communion, of which the Episcopal Church is still a part (thank God, at least, for now,) is sheparded by a poet and a scholar, as well as a priest. For more on the ABC, Dr. Rowan Williams, see I find his writing worth reading, it always offers up something to contemplate, something for consiousness to work on and through.

This is the first Lent I have ever been grateful for. Up untill recently, along with Advent and the whole penitence thing, it was just one of those dreary, fusty aspects of Christianity that felt soooooo boring. Now it has come alive. And as usual, I am amazed by how much room ( depth and breadth, hight, Spirit and time) there is within Christianity. You can practice it, as best you can at any particular moment, for decades upon decades, and your practice will constantly grow, change and connect to greater wisdom. It's like a foretaste of infinity since, like a tardis or Narnia, it's bigger on the inside than the outside.

I am grateful for Lent because I am beginning to understand that human beings need it in order to be whole. God dosn't need it, but yes, we humans, most certianly we do. Still, in the land of wish, we sure wish we didn't. We don't -want- to need it. We want to be just fine without it. But if we were so fine, the truth is, we wouldn't be us. We wouldn't have all the extrodinary potential humans have. In wanting to be more we would actually make ourselves less, trading potential for a mess of finitude. Luckily, God does not comply with our wishes here.

OK--I'm running ahead of myself, per usual. Let me go back towards the start.

I'm going to start from a secular slant on what it means to be human. As such, I'll posit (without any originality, may I add, Chesterton gets the credit,) that we are animals who have gone off our heads. We are animals who create and are created by a social world: human civilization. In order to be part of human civilization, we must repress, supress bits of our instincts and desires. If we are angry at someone -- we can not hit them although we want to. If we desire someone, we can not have sex with them unless they also want to have sex with us, and unless neither of us are committed to others. If I like your jewlery, I can not just make off with it, much as I admire it. Etc, etc. We cope with this in many ways, but there is always a price to our coping. The price, for a secularist, can be called guilt. If you are a Christian, it can be called sin. Either way, every human that I have ever met or heard of carries a load of it.

And what to do with it? That IS the question. Some pretend this load dosn't exist. There is no price for civilization. We are perfect in every way just as we are. This is fine until reality sideswipes you and then, well, it isn't. Some just act out from the pressure of it, hurting themselves and others in the process and thereby increasing the load and creating a self-destructive cycle. Some think various psychological therapies can help -- and they do, and to the extent that they do, such therapies are worthwhile. But they are like bandages on an infected wound that needs antibiotics. What humans call religions offer antiobiotics. Lent and Advent and penitence are antibiodics.

I never gave anything up for Lent before because I'm not given to false pieties. I'd much rather be a honest sinner than a hypocritical one. But this year I've finaly understood about the load, so I have given up something I constantly crave, my favorite food, one I eat everyday. And I didn't think this fast would last a day, let alone a week. Well, so far, it's lasted, and as far as I'm concerned, it's a miracle. I have no gift for self-denial. In short, I'm a pig. I want what I want when I want it and I usually do what I can to get it. Yet, and this is what has suprised me -- I haven't really wanted it. Or I have wanted more to give a small, tiny sacrifice, a drop in the proverbial bucket, so as to stand with Christ. For just a bit, for just a little, for as much as grace allows me. A small sacrifice to honor, to companion, a larger one, the one that frees us from the load all together.

So I am grateful that the church year gives me a place to do this. To acknowledge the accumulated guilt of living and to make a real and symbolic act that acknowleges our liberation from its load. To give thanks for being freed from the gratuitious behaviours that sin engenders. To show my gratitude and contrition. Without a place for all this, how could I begin to be whole?

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

First Daft with a Blue Squill

Yupph, the first Daffadilly has opened up. And two blue Siberian Squills. Snowdrops still going. Think I may have lost my Pasque flower, -- even with pebbles and compost thrown in my clay soil is still clay soil, even if between rocks. And where oh where are those winter aconites?

Monday, March 13, 2006

Quotes for the Day

Part of the fun of my job is that I get to evaluate new and old books. For a book-lover, that means the equivilent of new gifts everyday. Its pretty darn cool. And lots of the stuff these books have to say is also pretty darn cool. From time to time I would like to pass on some examples. (JFTR--all these books and authors are available to anyone through the Free Library.)

"Among those who actually went thru Auschwitz, the number whose religious life was deepened … far exceeds the number of those who gave up their belief. … a weak faith is weakened by predicaments and catastrophes, whereas a strong faith is strengthened by them.”

Viktor Frankl in, I think, The Will To Meaning

"It is a kind of bad infinity, a sublimity gone awry, and unstaunchable wound cut deep in our being which refuses to heal. We cannot be rid of it, since willing not to will is beyond our power. Like language, desire is a medium into which we fell at birth, and from which there appears no hope of rescue. Any history which might redeem us from it would simply be one of its diseased products. …
The abstract will has come unstuck from the body, treats it merely as a tool, and thus can no longer shape it into significance from the inside. Like this all-devouring will, hedonism is in reality a form of nihilism, reveling in the very pointlessness of bodily existence. It is when the sensuous life is no longer grasped as purposive that it can be objectified as a fetish to be worshiped, or a commodity to be consumed. For all its excited pursuit of novelty, hedonism is a covert kind of cynicism. Power as an end in itself, and sensation as an end in itself, belong together, as “Women in Love” recognizes. The former is pure form, and the latter pure content. The self-delighting will, which is secretly in love with itself, finds an inverted echo in the erotic gratifications or ‘corrupt gorgeousness’ of so-called decadence."

Terry Eagelton on desire and will in Holy Terror

“Word, Silence and Understanding are the three dimensions of meaning… What happens when we understand? We give ourselves to the Word so wholeheartedly that it can take hold of us. When the Word takes us home into the Silence from where it has come, we understand."
Brother David Steindl-Rast in Gratefulness, The Heart of Prayer

Saturday, March 11, 2006

So Talking to Yourself is Good for You or the Golden Lining

Talking to yourself is good for you. Maybe not as good for you as coffee (see last post,) but good enough to be worthwhile. For, while more pleasurable and less permenent, it is much like hanging in that it concentrates the mind wonderfully. And as Shakespeare discovered in giving his characters soliliquies (or as Harold Bloom feels Shakespeare discovered,) overhearing oneself is alot like setting up one's own dull, reasonable straightman -- it gives the motive, instrument and opportunity for an answering zinger.

In my last post I asked myself why I was enjoying taking on new things so much -- and gave some predictable but limited answers. Ho-hum. But last night in one of the epiphinies when you wake up to go to the bathroom and realize you have been thinking in your sleep (not dreaming, thinking,) it came clear.

A few years ago I suffered a bit more than I had bargained for. I had gone up against what appeared to be malicious adversity and was both suprised and indignent to find it too strong for me. I emerged defeated, puzzled and hurt but in one piece and with my self-respect intact. Only last night did I realize that the whole painful experience had brought with it a gift to go along with all that gratuitous suffering.

Because it allowed me to remake my own story. Not the one I'm writing here but the deep story, the one that can't be written, that lives in our hearts and all the roles we then chose to play in life. That unamed something that everything else boils down to. The story about who we are that is first formed by God, but then receives its most tenacious overlayer from our earliest interactions with our caregivers. But later experiences can and does modify this overlayer. And this very late experience, aweful as it was, allowed me to remake my story in both a nobler and more functional way. Perhaps even, by some strange grace (as most grace is ,) to bring it closer to what God originally had in mind for me.

There is one thing I am now wondering. If I had not worked(that means prayed) very hard indeed (more prayer) to get my miserable self(alot more prayer) to the point where I was able to allow (a whole lot more prayer again) myself to forgive those who harmed me (have I mentioned this took alot of prayer and that without the grace to pray (yup, more prayer) I'd probobly still be grinding my teeth) -- would I have been capable of this later realization? And I realize as soon as wording the question, no, I wouldn't be. Forgiveness really does free up the forgiver, perhaps even as much as the forgiven.

And so- with a new story inside of me, I now greet life with a little more zest, alittle more humility(which becomes its own kind of confidience,) humor and equanimity, than before. Hmmm-- some rain clouds do seem to have a golden lining.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Nomenclature & Coffee is Good for You

What do librarians do on their day off?

They volunteer for the Philadelphia Flower Show's Nomenclature Committee, and despite having a monster cold, show-up and have a ball correcting Gardening Clubs' plant lists by using a mountain of reference materials.

I am -such- a geek. But give me the collected works of Armitage, the Royal Horticultural Society's Plant Finder and A-Z and various works on particular genera -- and let me rip. I can vet a plant list with the best of them.

Well, actually not. Actually, I have alot to learn. And my dyslexia means I must remember to triple-check at the very least, double-checking is not enough. Still-- It puts me in high geek heaven. Its like finding a calling. I love how as one get older, life gets more interesting. There are more and more pleasurable things to do. Is it just the accretion of skills or a growth in confidience that deludes one into attempting stuff that might have dismayed one earlier? Or is it the realization that such skills wouldn't last forever, that sooner or later the apparatus will become less wieldly, so its more than worth the candle to light the bonfire while the oven is hot, or, erg, something like that. Whatever it is, I like it.

Also--I've taken up drinking coffee. Long a Diet Coke addict, I decided I might as well get some anti-toxidents with my caffeine. And it does taste better than Diet Coke.

Don't believe me? Then believe Harvard

Harvard Health Letter, Feb 2006 pNA
Re-javanation: That cuppa joe might have some health benefits. (health benefits of coffee)

Is coffee a health drink? Not quite, but some research suggests that it could protect against diabetes and other conditions.

Study findings from 2004 and 2005 suggest it might actually be good for us. A 2005 article in the British Journal of Nutrition asked whether coffee should be considered a "functional food" -- one that has health benefits beyond basic nutrition.

Results from prospective studies -- which follow people for years, not just a few weeks -- are showing that coffee doesn't increase the risk for high blood pressure (hypertension). In November 2005, Harvard researchers reported results from the Nurses' Health Study that showed no coffee-hypertension link. It's possible that people develop a tolerance to coffee's hypertensive effects after a while.

Several studies suggest that coffee has anti-cancer properties. Japanese researchers in 2005 concluded that coffee drinkers were 50% less likely to get liver cancer than nondrinkers (coffee may protect people against other forms of liver disease as well). It's been linked to reduced colon cancer risk. But you can't make a sweeping generalization. One study found that coffee reduces breast cancer risk in lean women, but increases it in heavier women. In 2005 Harvard researchers reported that decaf coffee seemed to lower rectal cancer risk, while caffeinated coffee had no effect on colon or rectal cancer. Several studies have shown that caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee have different health effects

Now several long studies have shown that heavy coffee drinkers may be half as likely to get diabetes as light or nondrinkers. Why? Possibly because coffee contains ingredients (such as chlorogenic acid) that lower blood sugar. A coffee habit may also increase your resting metabolism rate, which could help keep diabetes at bay.

Gallstones. Researchers report that coffee drinkers are less likely to suffer symptomatic gallstone disease, possibly because coffee alters the cholesterol content of the bile produced by the liver.

inson's disease. Coffee seems to protect men but not women against Parkinson's disease. If caffeine is the reason, one possible explanation for the sex difference may be that estrogen and caffeine need the same enzymes to be metabolized, and estrogen hogs those enzymes. Supporting this hypothesis are findings that women who've never used postmenopausal hormones are less likely to get Parkinson's disease if they drink coffee.

Saturday, March 04, 2006


Can't figure out how to get this on my profile.

Here is DH and self on top of Mt Mansfield in Vermont
Notice DH, in sunglasses, is smiling; me, I'm squinting. But at least I took my hat off. Posted by Picasa

Starting up the Garden

Since I promised a gardening blog, here it begins.

To get to effects like the picture at left, I start now with seeds.

Here's whats in trays I am putting out today in a plastic cold frame:

Red Western Bleeding heart
Yellow Alexander -Smyrnium perfoliatum-
Patrinia scabiouifolio
Dwarf Monarda
Malva "Park Allee"--apricot mallow
White Guara
Amsonia hubrichia Here is what is already out there:
Wreath Goldenrod Campanula persicofolia
Corydalis sempervirens Dianthus Deltoides Alba Thalictrum flavum Digitalis grandiflora
Hairy Pink Chaerophyllum Pimpinella major Rosea Adlumia vine

Inside is--pink, mango(so Burpee says) and peach impatiens
Johnny Jump Ups--standard, Bowles Black &Psychadelic Spring
Salvia Clary "Blue Denim"
Browallia, the blue one

Soon I'll start the Nicotianas.
And next week is the Philadelphia Flower show, where I tend to go hog-wild at the great seed booth.

I am amazed by seeds. I'm not disappointed by any lack of germination--I'm astounded by the fact that any of them work at all. Posted by Picasa

Friday, March 03, 2006

Humor or Screed?

Well, after that fairly noble first post I have put my foot in it, to say the least. Spurred on by news that the temporary new editor of our local paper (called the "Local," for good reason,) might become its permenent editor, and irritated by the lack of substance in the paper since her arrival, I fired off a mean-spirited letter. Among other things, I ridiculed her for writing twee cat editorials. I also posted the same letter on the blog of the old editor. A few days later, said new editor is in the hospital with a heart attack, and goes into a coma.

Ack. How easily I forget that the person one is writing about is not an abstract entity but a real person. A real person with a real life, who in real life I would not be mean to. But put a pen in my hand or a keyboard under my fingers and I start channeling inner bitch. How Christian is that?

I am inclined to take this blog in two different directions. One is to go for the comic angle, the wanna-be do-gooder who gets everything wrong. But somehow, I'm not quite comfortable with that-- since there is much more in me than just a comic character. So perhaps I should make her a character -- a benighted, clueless twin, Janet, Janet Wisniewski. The other direction was suggested to me by a fellow librarian. She thought I might let the inner bitch out of her box. Let her rip until I get tired of her and have more control over her energy. Said librarian is a smart, accomplished woman so I am thinking of going that way. Perhaps I will make up a bitchy triplet -- Mabel, Mabel Wisniewski, and let her screed on from time to time. Hmmm, ma belle Mabel.
Yup -- that could work. Three Wisniewskis for the price of one.

I love to write so I need to get a handle on this energy. And send the temporary editor of the "Local" a get-well card.


Chestnut Hill Local:
"We Want to Know" post, "Chestnut Hill Notebook," John LombardiExecutive Editor,

Friday, February 24, 2006


I garden. I librarian in Philadelphia. I live in Chestnut Hill. And all this, in fact just about everything in my life, has its roots in the sort of devoted liberal Episcopalian Christianity that so many zealots of so many stripes claim dosn't and can't exist. Conservatives claim you can't use liberal and devoted in the same sentence. Liberals claim you can't use liberal and Christian in the same sentence. Well, pooh to both. I would like to try and witness here that both assertions are untrue and destructive.

I also need a place to keep a gardening and reading journal, to blow off steam or exhault about work, to reflect on life in Chestnut Hill and to celebrate all the neat stuff life throws my way. So here is where I will give it a wack. Please do not rip off or use anything here without credit. That aside, welcome and enjoy.