Sunday, May 30, 2010

Something is Better than Nothing

It is ironic that I have started a blog about the garden on the edge of summer––my least favorite season in the southern garden. I like creating more than I do maintaining; I like working more than I do sitting and quietly enjoying. I do not like sweeping up mulberries that turn the driveway (and my floor when I track them into the house) purple; and which I have to wash off my car when the birds relocate them. I do not like mosquitoes and flies. I do not like heat. I do not like watching things wilt in the heat and die due to lack of water; and no matter how much I water, it is never as successful as a soaking rain. North Carolina tends toward both heat and drought (or, at best, feast and famine rain) in the summer. As with most things that occur in my life, I don't think it is an accident that this long-contemplated blog is entering the birth canal during a wilderness time.

I am committed to writing something current each week, not falling back on what I have already written; and that means I will have to resist the temptation to let the garden fend for itself, while I stay inside in the air conditioning. I will have to buy more bug repellent and citronella. On the other hand, I will not miss the fireflies while avoiding the mosquitoes. I will have to learn to sit still and open up all my senses. I will have to observe the summer garden up close and personal. One of the things I have noticed already, following several really good spring rains in the past week, is that one of my hydrangeas is the bluest blue I have ever seen. Has it always been such a deep hue? I don't think I've really stopped to examine it in the past. My eyes are already more open.

I have been thinking about the maxim that something is better than nothing. Once in a while it is true, but usually not––and when it is, it is nearly always a temporary fix. My wheelbarrow has a flat tire. It's been flat for weeks. I don't know why I haven't gotten it fixed. It's better than nothing. I can still haul lightweight stuff in it. Bags of mulch and cement stepping stones are not lightweight; and I haul them, too. It is better than nothing, but if I don't get it repaired, nothing is what I am going to have.

Yesterday I dug up Japanese iris. Like the liriope, it was no doubt planted in sunlight; but now the area is in deep shade. I have balked at digging it up because Japanese iris is one of my favorite flowers, and the first two summers a few of them bloomed. Something is better than nothing. Or is it? I dug it up to plant  ferns in its place. The iris did so-so, but the ferns will thrive. Sometimes we have to take the leap to clear the space to plant something that will flourish. We don't have to settle for "something." 

In 1969, I accepted a date to the junior prom with a boy who was shorter than (somehow that was important then). The boy I wanted to go with didn't ask me and I decided someone was better than no one. I wore shoes with inch and a half chunky heels (the only time in my life until recently that I  have worn heels) and paid to have my hair done in a very unbecoming upsweep with heavily sprayed ringlet curls (the only time I have ever done that, too). That made me not merely taller than Andy, but several inches taller. Mean. But it was all about me and my prom experience. I am sorry Andy. I got to go the prom, though, and I am certain––from this vantage point––my date was infinitely better than nothing, even if I thought then that I was settling.

One memorable summer, home from college on the heels of breaking up with a boyfriend, I engaged in what my father called a summer romance. To the guy's face. As in, "Steve, how does it feel to be having a summer romance?" He thought he was being funny. It infuriated and embarrassed me; but, of course he was right––and I knew it. Steve was a bit older than I...and he had a Mazda and a Model A panel truck. He was a teacher on summer break and I worked the swing shift at a nursing home. There was lots of time for riding around in his vehicles. A summer romance was not what he had in mind, and a long-term relationship based on the need to fill an empty space––and cool transportation––was not what I had in mind. I am sure he was deeply hurt when he realized that I was leaving him behind when I returned to school. Something was definitely better than nothing that summer of 1972––for me at least. Steve, I heard, met the woman of his dreams not long after that, got married and is, I hope, very happy.

I moved the iris to new spots. I don't know if they will bloom––probably not this year for sure, gardening is not for the impatient. I read that Japanese iris excrete a substance into the soil that causes them to "lose their vigor and decline over time." They should be moved to a place where irises have not been before. I find that true of relationships; and if we keep looking for connections, either with new people or with those we have been with for some time,  in the same places where we have always looked, we will end up either with nothing or with settling for a less-than-satisfying something.

I have a confession. A few weeks ago, I subscribed to an online dating service; something I said I would never do. I started feeling left behind when others I know found relationships online that have become important. I really am not sure I want a relationship, and the very thought of dating makes me want to vomit. But am I missing something I might be sorry for later? I don't know that I am, but I am choosing to try it.  I dislike the process as much as I thought I would. I have made one friend; a few others I have contacted have not responded. By far the majority of those "matched" with me are...well, canine. Sometimes we have to plant things in new places and see what comes up. It may be unsuccessful; but nothing ventured, nothing gained (a maxim with more truth in it).

Sometimes when we start digging, we uncover the unexpected (see my previous post about hidden treasure). While digging up iris, I uncovered an infant snake, coiled in the reptile equivalent of the fetal position. I tossed it aside and only after it left my gloved hand did it occur to me that it might have been a Copperhead, in which case I should have considered a more permanent banishment. I couldn't find where it landed, so I had to settle for letting sleeping dogs (or snakes in this case) lie. Nothing is preferable to something in some cases.

I am still trying to find things that will actually bloom in the garden beside my house, the one that leads from the  driveway to my garden gate; the gate that separates the public street from the secret garden in back. I tried to build something out of nothing and it is so much better than the nothing that was there. It remains my favorite garden, but no plant will bloom. The rhododendron that never flowered finally succumbed to root rot. The peony had only two buds this spring and one never opened. The Carolina jasmine had only two yellow blossoms. The pansies get leggy and there isn't enough sun for marigolds or verbena. The lily of the valley that doesn't bloom or multiply and the bleeding heart that blooms prolifically in the back garden but not the side one, perhaps don't get enough rain, protected by a dense pyracantha. I keep changing out the plants, hoping that eventually I will discover something that works. I have put in more non-flowering things this year, including plants with colorful foliage like polka dot plant. Like relationships that we keep coaxing along, we might get lucky and find something that works, if we keep trying. We might find a new way of being in relationship, either with those with whom the relationship as we knew it has ended or with new people; even when it's not what we initially thought it would be.

Sometimes something is better than nothing; but both in the garden and in life, it is usually a good idea to keep searching and striving for that which will make us full.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Buried Treasure

Liriope has its place in the garden. It is an excellent border plant, especially as a place holder in the better-than-nothing school of thought. It has lovely purple flowers in the summer. And if you remember to cut it back in the spring, before the new growth gets going, it looks fresh and green.  I usually don't remember. 

I am sure when the now multiplied liriope was planted in my yard, those were the reasons. Now, however, the plants are understory to the huge azaleas that separate the yard from the woodland garden I created when I took out the wild rose grown amok, a long-abandoned clothes line, and a variety of other entanglements. In other places, they are crowded between more interesting plants. They formed a semi-circle around the enormous yucca plant I dug out last year, most of the lirope with it, and "planted" three discarded church windows in its place. The liriope came to live a shade existence, and what blooms they had were hidden in an over-powered relationship with the larger plants around and above them.

Yesterday I dug the liriope out from under the azaleas. It was part of my opening-up-hidden-treasure plan. I also pruned the ground-brushing branches of the azaleas. I wanted to be able to see under them to get just a peak at what was beyond: the ferns, coral bell, trillium, and Solomon seal in the woodland garden.

I got the idea to take out the lirope several days before I was able to dig in. I could hardly wait to get at it. This is not new to me; I get exited about a lot of sometimes crazy ideas that I can hardly wait to implement. Ignoring the fact that my back has been hurting for three weeks, I returned from morning coffee, a visit to the Farmers' Market for yet more plants, and Lowe's for six bags of mulch. Oblivious to the rain drizzle, I grabbed my gloves and shovel from the shed. It was not as easy as I had anticipated, the ground was full of roots. I assumed the large ones were attached to the azaleas and leather leaf plant and left them alone. I hoped that the smaller ones were connected to the decades-old lirope, and ripped or cut them out. I guess I'll know eventually if my assumptions were correct.

The thing is when you start digging out the parts of your life that aren't working for you anymore, you uncover buried treasure for which you didn't even know to have a map. I don't know why I haven't learned to expect the unexpected; I guess I just love the element of surprise. I have experienced it many times when I have started messing with what isn't giving me life and energy.  I have certainly dug up a lot of cool stuff in my yard, including dozens of medium-sized and large rocks that have been very useful, and most of the flagstone that forms paths in my yard. (Also less useful things, like a piece of a glass Dr. Pepper bottle, a large iron wheel rim--which is now on a stump, filled with soil and plants,  a stroller wheel, a brush roller pick, and the end piece of a lawn mower starter cord. Bet there was some cussing when that broke.) The thing about archeological digs is you can paint a picture of what life might have looked like years in the past. When I dug up another dozen medium-sized rocks from around the lirope, I imagined those azaleas when they were a foot in diameter––rather than seven feet––bordered by lirope; and the lirope bordered by rocks.

There were just enough rocks to complete the border of the bed I had carved out next to (and on top of) the end of the driveway. Buried treasure. I gave the lirope to my new neighbors for their backyard––something is better than nothing. They are very young people, I had to show them what it would look like when it was planted, rather than piled in the wheelbarrow. Yes, I still have some in my yard; still holding space for something more interesting yet to come. I hope there will always be something new to uncover, both in my garden and in my life.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Beginning Again

There is an omni-present root, the yellow-orange color of bailing twine, running under my yard and garden. I have uncovered it so many times, I have named it: Audrey. The root running through my life is named Beginnings: 17 homes in four states, two long-term relationships, graduate school at 40, and too many jobs to count. The circumstances leading to the beginnings have not always been in my control. On the cusp of my 58th birthday, I am choosing to look in new places to open my world up.

Three years ago, on my own, I purchased a fully-renovated, 58-year-old, not-so-big house with over-grown, neglected gardens. Given little to do inside the house, other than put color to the beige walls, I have fallen in love with restoring the gardens to their former glory. As I learn about being a gardener and become aware of what is happening there, I learn about life. The passion for gardening is new. I recognized a passion for writing several years ago, but took it only as far as wishing I were a writer. The truth is, I have discovered in my maturity, we are what we do; and we can do what we are, no matter when we begin. I am a gardener because I garden; I am a writer because I write.

May Sarton, writer of poetry, journals, and novels, said, "a poem is primarily a dialogue with the self and the novel a dialogue with others." Perhaps the journal spans the gap. I write to understand myself, and I share it with you in the hope that it will spark you to engage in a dialogue with yourself and with others; and to join me in living with courage, with inner integrity, and with an open spirit.

And so I begin this journal of my view from the garden.