It has been a wild time. The winter that wouldn’t end ran headlong into spring, stopping only for a moment to catch its breath, send out some delicate green shoots, and deliver some crushing news. Everything here springing up wild and wick, the bees finally hitting their honeyed stride, just in time to get left in a hurry, coffee still on the stove, the needle poised above the record, the bounding radishes and collards and kale unthinned… to head south and attend loss. Then a quick accounting, a slapdash suitcase, and a whirlwind trip out west, full of joy and light and adventure. A perfect time. Then home again, which, after weeks of absence, looked like something out of The Secret Garden or Grey Gardens or Mrs. Havisham or Miss Honey’s House… some lovely testament to elegant decay, but also probably garnering some judgment from the neighbors. Vines and blooms and ripening, peonies bent over double, canary roses full of promise, about to burst, irises sprung up seemingly overnight, grass in the meadow at hip height. Just enough time to gather this hasty bouquet, improbably, the pale yellow broccoli that bolted into unruly flowers in the unexpected heat, the wild spreading white Cherokee roses that make me repeat my grandfather’s mantra (“it’s only a weed if you don’t want it there”), and the sweet buttercups in the yard that I knew would be falling under the scythe in a few day’s time. A funny wild bouquet plucked accidentally, almost out of necessity (leaving the fancy flowers where they were), delicate and dropping petals and perfumed with a sweet fragrance that, for essentially zero reason, always makes me think of Emmylou Harris. Put in the center of the table with a happy sigh. Just in time for more crushing news. And again, we leave the coffee on the stove, the compost in the bin, the laundry on the chair (at least clean and folded if not put away), the bees in the clover, the cat in the window…all to head south and attend loss. It’s what the living do, care for each other in this great yearning, and rejoice together because we must, absolutely, celebrate this wild loveliness that is the. thing.
Spotted in Xanadu, the Queen Bee.
I’ve always loved plants, flowers, blooms. Made forts in boxwoods, learned and loved the evocative names Mama had planted in the gracious swooping beds surrounding our house, onomatopoetic almost, Bleeding Hearts, Johnny Jump-ups, Naked Ladies, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Poet’s Laurel, St. John’s Wort, Harry Lauder Walking Stick. I held dear The Secret Garden, Peter Rabbit, and a book called “Flower Fairies of the Garden“ (my copy of which my Mama brought back to me recently for use as a research tome). I’ve always loved plants, but it’s been like how you love Paris or how you love Vermeer or how you love Virginia Woolf. You love them from afar, through the lens of where you are, they’re distant, somehow, you appreciate their beauty and softness and worldly majesty when you are lucky enough to brush by it, but Paris is not yours, the Vermeer isn’t in your care, and you will never truly understand Virginia Woolf, no matter how many times you re-read To The Lighthouse. I’ve always felt the same way about plants. I love them, but that they are not meant for me to understand. And when I try, one of us usually ends up a shriveled brown mess.I think this has a lot to do with our relationship with time. Talking about this crazy winter, the forsythias straggled in just last week, leggy and blown like a horse ridden to far too fast. In deciding whether to cut it back drastically or let time take its course, the words got tossed around we’ll just have to see how they do next year. It’s unfathomable for a person of 25 to be thinking about what a plant is going to do a year from now when they don’t know what they’re going to be doing six months from now. The rare young birds that do have very old souls indeed. You have to be in a place where you’re ready to put your own roots down before you can be worrying about anyone elses.
Understanding a plant takes commitment, the delicate pruning of the lilac, the blooming off of new-wood-old-wood argument of the Azalea (what, that takes 3 years to understand?), and the dauntless perennial bulbs that are springing to life right now, a testament to the staying power of loveliness and perhaps proof of the rightness of civilization. Miss McKay says that her mama told her that if you see daffodils in the country, it means a house used to stand there, the plants become the record of the people, and are still there after decades. And this is the, ahem, root of it. The best kind of plants have a kind of permanence (like Paris, like Miss Virginia) that, literally, takes root and hangs on for years, you are their steward, you have to be in it for the long haul, and if you do your job well, the roots you put down will outlast you. I discovered a stand of daffodils in the back woods, near where some mysterious stone columns have sat, fallen for years like an Appalachian Ozymandius, the dark green shoots bursting from bramble, proof that someone cared here. And I care here now.
This Brooklyn sidewalk garden on the block next to ours is exactly how I want my wild country side yard to be. Juuust out of frame: an apple tree (I have that), and this awesome mural (I don’t have that).
This is the year of the rookie garden. Someday I will have my mother’s hands and my grandfather’s understanding of what plants need to go where (or at least maybe my other grandfather’s brilliant knack for just hiring someone to do it right), but in the meantime, I’m just playing fast and loose with seeds and starts and trials and errors and sun and shade and just trying to appreciate the loveliness of small successes as I make a (totally delicious) dinner involving 4 peas and 3 radishes. In all of this vegetable garden planning and hand wringing and dirt moving and cucumber roadtripping, I forgot about flowers. So, in some went. Two packets of impulse-purchase dollar-store wildflowers and the entirety of the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange’s Wild Garden Perennial Insectary Mix (for the bees) sown. Look at these seeds! Strange curlicues, barbed instruments of war, tiny drinking gourds, beach balls, tomatillos, snailshells, armaments, and toboggans. Go forth little seeds, go forth and bloom.
O Easter Egg Radishes, with your multitude of colors and strange bulbous shapes, how delicious you are pulled right from the garden, thinly sliced, and put on a plate with thick dutch cheese, bread, and mustard (and a nice cold beer). We felt very European, and also, even though the chilly spring and our beginner-gardener-flailings means we aren’t pulling our radishes until mid-June, pretty proud of ourselves.
The cucumbers have not been happy. And, as we all know, the most surefire cure for a little malaise, when your roots are in a twist and you need a little sun on your shoulders is a ROAD TRIP. So we packed a wagon with all of their earthly possessions and have gone on a little adventure, all the way across the yard. We’ll see if they like it.