On Plants

azaleasI’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 GardenPeter 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.tulipdewI 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.daffodil

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.

Another Meadow

jaysmeadowThis picture doesn’t even begin to do my dear friend Jay’s meadow justice. His new house (which feels ancient and lived in and almost smoky with tangible good vibes even though they just moved in) is bermed into a hillside and the sloping greens on all sides are simply filled to bursting with wild baby’s breath, black eyed susan’s, zinnias, cosmos, feathery coreopsis, plain little daisies, queen anne’s lace, wild yarrow, sunflowers, branching asters, and the whole thing is chock full of bees. He planted it all, wide strides and a linen bag of seeds at his hip, feeding a rain of possibility across the fall-dark naked earth in last year’s chill, and now it’s this. To me it feels like magic, but he’s the kind of man who makes you see that magic like this beauty is just intention with a touch of wonder. After our last visit, just as we were leaving, his sun-kissed bride ran out of the house with one of her precious jars and a pair of Japanese shears in hand and said you must take flowers with you, take as many as you can. These are my kind of people, in every possible way.jayscosmos

Finally, some Flowers

FlowerSeedsThis 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.flowerseedmix

Easter Egg Radishes

EasterEggRadishesO 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.

Miss McKay’s Moon Vine

McKaysMoonVineIn the short almanac days of dark December, a care package came from Miss McKay. A burnished new short story and a bright yellow envelope, rattling and full of purpose, marked “open with care”. Inside the envelope, a dozen (magic?) seeds, labeled McKay’s Moon Vine, and accompanied by these instructions:

In May soak seed overnight. Plant in sunny spot where she can climb, a spot you walk by every evening. Enjoy big, white, fragrant blooms with sweetheart at cocktail hour.

Oh heart, those are my kind of instructions. And, through the trials of this strange and cold spring, almost at the very tail end of May, it is finally warm enough to plant them. Welcome Home.

Cucumber Road Trip

CucumberRoadtripThe 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.

Living Things Everywhere

JeffsRosesThere are living things covering pretty much every surface of the house right now. I used to make it a priority to always have fresh flowers at the Brooklyn brownstone but, with the exception of when I smuggled bundles of fresh apple blossoms from our newly-discovered tree up there last time I went, or when I felt like celebrating something big by dropping some coin at the Chelsea Flower Market for lilacs or anemones, Brooklyn flowers usually means whatever-is-cheapest-at-the-bodega-on-the-way-home-from-work. Slim pickins’. Lots of daisies, the occasional lily, gorgeous hydrangeas that die immediately. Always lovely, never bountiful. But, ah, bounty! Right now we have these beautiful, delicate pink roses that Jeff, chimneysweep and green-thumb extraordinare, brought us yesterday when he came to ready the woodstove for next season and make sure no birds would build their nests in the chimney in the meantime. FigRootingWe have fig cuttings Miss Ravenel brought me from her french fig tree in rooting medium on the windowseat, hoping they’ll take root and we’ll have figs next year. There are peonies blooming on the coffee table (and I stole one for my bedside) courtesy of Abby and Catherine, who came by to get our bride ready last Saturday. There are peonies in the bud at the kitchen sink, brought by my mama. There is a low slung bowl of languorous thyme, trimmed from an unruly transplant. A clear bottle on the kitchen counter with Brookie’s rosemary, a pint glass of mint plucked from by the stairs for juleps. Bud vases of lysianthus and spirea dot the sideboard and on top of the piano, and there are pink trumpet azaleas brought in from the garden to amend the last gasp of sweet Meags’ parrot tulips. It’s a serious bounty, and to be surrounded by such love and beauty is a rare thing indeed.TrumpetAzalea