Thursday, August 4, 2011

Perfect Partners for Summer

Perfect Pairs
When perfectly matched plants bloom together in the garden, I feel thoroughly satisfied. Sometimes I’ve planned a winning combination, but just as often, purely by chance, a stray seedling pops up right beside the ideal partner. Either way, here are some terrific pairings for midsummer.
I’ve always adored ‘Strutter’s Ball’ daylily. The wine flowers have the texture of velvet—I would love to have a jacket just like this. ‘Xenon’ sedum, with thick, waxy leaves of an even deeper burgundy, is a great companion, and sets buds just about when the daylily finishes blooming. Soft pink flowers arrive in late summer, lasting into fall. To cap off this combination,‘‘Madame Julia Correvon’ clematis scrambles through ‘Winter Fire’ cistus, an evergreen shrub which anchors the bed. ‘Madame Julia’ is a lively red-pink, echoing the central wine blotch in the heart of the cistus flowers, as well as the daylily flowers, and the sedum foliage.
Just when everything was coming together so well, ‘Lucifer’ crocosmia seeded itself into the composition for a hideous color clash. I guess I was feeling too cocky, so this blast of in-your-face orangey-red came along to humble me. If it weren’t for the hummingbirds that sip from Lucifer’s flowers, I would yank him out. But mercifully, the hummingbirds have saved him from shovel pruning.
In another bed, even after removing every shred of ‘Lucifer’ from a bed near the side path where colonies leaned and sprawled every summer, dozens of seedlings sprouted right cross the path, defying me. At first I was plenty mad, thinking, How could they, but this morning when I spent a good five minutes watching a very happy hummingbird drink her ‘Lucifer’ lunch, I changed my mind and decided it was all for a good purpose. Sometimes it’s OK to give up control and let the plants have their way. The garden is not just about my will. Please remind me of this resolution the next time I go on a mission to hunt and destroy.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Hummingbird in the Snow

But if I were a lily
I think I would wait all day
for the green face
of the hummingbird
to touch me.

From Lilies by Mary Oliver

The first snowfall was my signal to hole up in the office, stay warm and cozy, and write. Through the picture window I watched big soft snowflakes drift to the ground and felt like I was inside a snow globe. Soon I was mesmerized by the hypnotic flow. But my husband Tom broke the spell. He called me out of the office and pointed to the dining room window.
“It’s on its last legs!” he said.
Right outside the window a tiny hummingbird was perched on the snow-coated feeder, completely still. I sprang into action. Pulling on a jacket, boots, scarf, hat, I ran out the door to get the frozen feeder. Back inside, I thawed it out and refreshed it with new sugar water. Tiny hummingbird feathers were stuck to the rim. My heart raced with panic.
I went back outside with the refilled feeder and the second I the slid it back on its hook, even before I could step back, I heard the unmistakable whirring of wings. The hummingbird was alive and well, and ready for breakfast. I stood there not even a foot away and watched it sip. What a fine way to start the morning!
Thus began days of hummingbird vigil. My attention was focused on taking the feeder in as soon as it froze, thawing it out, refreshing the syrup and returning it outside. As soon as this weather calms down and I get back out in the world, I’ll buy a second feeder to make the transition faster.
On one of my forays outside, I saw my neighbor Steve shoveling his driveway, and told him about the hummingbirds.
“We have a feeder out too, and we keep changing it,” he said. “The males are fighting over it.”
So we have a hummingbird flyway now, with two stations for them to visit. Who knows, maybe up and down our block, there are more magnets waiting for our little visitors. I can picture them flitting from feeder to feeder, flashing their iridescent feathers, beating their tiny wings, and blessing us with their presence on snowy winter days.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

You'll Enjoy this Book

Waiting, an excerpt from Married to My Garden


Clouds come from time to time—
and bring a chance to rest
from looking at the moon.

Late January and the ground is frozen, the trees are coated with white frost and all the little beautiful evergreen colonies of Mrs. Robb’s spurge are huddled together shivering in the cold. This is a time of stillness. It’s the dormant season, from the root dormire, meaning to sleep. I would like to return to my bed and slumber on this Tuesday morning, but instead I bundle up in fleece and sip hot Earl Gray tea, and write, looking out onto the bleak landscape. Even the rake stands against the sweet gum tree in repose, and the compost pile is frozen stiff. Nothing moves in the garden.
So the sight of a few birds flying between the tree tops is a relief of sorts. Life wants to move. So much stillness smacks of death. I long to go outside and do something—my fingers itch for the pruners and the trowel. I want to pull weeds, to prune roses, to grab a handful of lavender and pinch the leaves, releasing the aroma of summer, of love, of happiness. Winter is a hardship, a deprivation, an absence that makes me cranky. But remembering how cold it is out there, and how quickly my fingers will turn red, I decide to be a bear in winter, to hibernate and be still.
This quiet time is part of a cycle that comes each year, a breathing space between all the planting and tending, all the grooming and feeding. It’s a time to reflect, to look, to contemplate, to simply be rather than do.
In every life process there’s a segment like this. Just before the seed germinates, it sits quietly underground, in the dark, out of sight. A certain amount of faith is required for us to leave it alone under the soil, and let it spring to life in its own sweet time. We wait. The same with the bulbs that we bury each fall. Underground they sit for months, invisible to us, doing what bulbs do in the deep of winter, until it is time for them to spread their roots and send their shoots up into the upper world.
And it is the same with us, with our own internal growth processes. We have a knot to unravel, a problem to solve, and we mull, we discuss, we write, we contemplate, and then, we bury it in our own sweet unconscious mind and sleep on it. The seed, the bulb must rest a while in the dark, must quiet down before it is ready to send down roots and send up shoots and bloom into understanding. Perhaps a dream will come in the night to cast some light, or an insight will appear some days later. No need to rush or worry—the quiet time, the night, the waiting, are all part of the growth process.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Birds Have Their Say

Birds Have Their Say

In the garden, I never know how small surprises will change me in big ways. This past year, the birds had their influence, and this is how it all started, last spring.
At first, the song of mourning doves woke me up early each morning. Their haunting tune, which my musician husband Tom says is C followed by F sharp, is a lot more calming than the screech of scrub jays.
Out in the garden, I followed the sound of the mourning doves to see if I could find their nest. Sure enough, it was in the gutter just behind the white lilac in full bloom, right above our bedroom window. I could see a baby bird’s head peeking over the gutter, waiting for worms. No wonder we could hear their morning serenade so clearly! I made a mental note to postpone the gutter cleaning 'til after nesting season.
Mourning doves delight me in many ways. I enjoy their stately walk along the driveway where they hunt for bugs and seeds. I love the flutter of their wings when they take off, and their pretty gray and tan colors. Bird life adds so much pleasure of the garden.
The largest gathering of birds is at the furthest end of the garden where old hawthorn trees reach from the neighbor’s yard and weave together with my own Portuguese laurel, witch hazel, Cornelian cherry dogwood, and mock orange, to form a dense hedgerow. Safely ensconced in this twiggy habitat, birds sing their hearts out at dawn and again at dusk, praising the day at both ends. The melodic cry of chickadees, the staccato twitter of bush tits, the sawing buzz of hummingbirds thrills me.
The joy of listening to this natural choir helps me appreciate the gifts of the less manicured part of the garden. I no longer need to apologize for this rather shaggy, naturalistic area, where I’ve let things go, and surrendered to the wild and woolly origins of this site. Now I see it as an homage to the original elderly homeowner who grew only fruit trees and let the grasses grow thigh high. I dedicate the south end of the property to Mr. Berg, to the birds and Mother Nature.
Now I plant all my new treasures closer to the house, where I can keep an eye on them, and protect them from slugs, weeds and cutworms. This is where the soil has been amended repeatedly, and many of the beds have been raised to provide better drainage. I have finally drawn some boundaries between the cultivated garden and the native wetland, and there is great comfort in knowing where to focus my energy.

Mike Darcy Visits My Garden

Garden Time Visits my Garden