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.

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.


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