Monday Opinion: What Time Is It?

Daylight savings time means that Sunday March 10th was a day with only 23 hours.  One would think that anything planned for the day could easily be accomplished in 23 hours instead of 24, but you decide.  Howard showed up bedside at 5am like he always does, but it really was 6 am.  He and Milo usually have breakfast at 6, but 6 had already come and gone. By 7, which was now 8, I was late for work, and the corgis still had not had breakfast.  If you are confused, you know exactly how I felt (or am I still feeling it?).  I usually have lunch at 11:30, which, but the new 11:30 is actually 10:30.  So Sunday brunch.  By this time I had at least remembered to feed the corgis.  I was half way to a landscape appointment until I realized I would be an hour early.  In looking at my watch, I see that the second hand is only moving every 20 seconds or so.  What?  I circle back, and spent 40 minutes sitting in my office trying to figure it out.  Why really do we spring ahead, and then fall back?  I knowing children walking to the bus stop has something to do with it.  The other reasons seem unconvincing and arbitrary.  Now there will be more time after work to stand in the garden and be able to do nothing.  I will have more evening daylight to contemplate the frozen ground.  I still have mountains of snow, even though it was 62 degrees yesterday.  I am a day late expressing the opinion that a day with only 23 hours felt like a day that was out of reach from start to finish.  Today I was late for work, and cranky.

The days are getting longer.  Who knows exactly what day the sun will finally make up that lost hour.  At least it will be months before that 25 hour day arrives in November.  In the meantime, that out of sorts feeling can be diminished by just one thing.  The sure signs of spring.  It was just a few days ago that I heard birds singing when I woke up.  The magnolia stellata, even though it is heavily mulched with snow, looks like the buds are ready to burst.  Yesterday it was 62 degrees.  Today it is pouring rain.  It is muddy and icy, everywhere.  Milo’s footprints all over the shop make it look like we have not mopped for months.  What he doesn’t deposit on the shop floor is now in my office.  These are sure signs of spring.  The watch I have had for years is not running right.  It will take 10 days to send it out for evaluation.  However, I am sure I already know what is wrong. Even my watch can’t figure out what time it is.

Sunday Opinion: March Madness

March madness has a meaning in popular culture that dates back to the 1940’s.  For those of you who do not follow basketball, March madness refers specifically to the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) college basketball championships.  Most of these championship games are played in March, and followed with astonishingly reverential and lively interest.  Steve, my landscape superintendent, does not look kindly on any activity which interferes with a March NCAA game.  He likes his March to himelf.  Gardeners host championships every month of the year-but at least in my zone, not in March.  March is the next to the last of the tail end of winter.  This is a polite way of saying that March 1 does not necessarily mean spring.  My need for spring is always early.  Once March arrives, winter stocism starts giving way in a big way for a longing for spring.

Am I longing for spring?  No doubt.  A high temperature with snow showers today is disheartening at best, and really aggrevating at worst.  Our last heavy wet snow, so gorgeous as it fell,  is now glued into place, and has an annoying and treacherous crust.  This state of affairs-courtesy of recent temperatures significantly below freezing.  Everwhere, the landscape is represented by ice.  Dirty ice.  Gray skies.  Snow showers.  As for a gardener’s version of March madness, I think I might be afflicted.  I don’t want to be out, nor do I want to be in.  That cooped up feeling has intensified like a storm exactly on track.  My winter coat feels like a soft walled version of jail.  I am tired of that chilly and speechless state of affairs.

Henry V Porter was a high school teacher and coach in Athens, Illinois.  In 1942, he wrote this essay in which he coined the phrase-  March Madness.  At that time, basketball was a only a statewide event. His essay, though it is obviously dated, expresses in plain terms what it means to have a sincere passion.

March Madness,  by Henry V Porter
Homo sapiens of the Hardwood Court is a hardy specie. There are millions of him. He exists through summer and fall, shows signs of animation through the winter and lives to the utmost during March when a hundred thousand pairs of rubber soled shoes slap the hardwood in a whirlwind of stops and pivots and dashes on the trail to the state basketball championships. He is a glutton for punishment. When the March madness is on him, midnight jaunts of a hundred miles on successive nights make him even more alert the next day. He will polish his pants on sixteen inches of bleacher seat through two games or three and take offense if asked to leave during the intermission between sessions. He is happy only when the floor shimmers with reflections of fast moving streaks of color, when the players swarm at each end and the air is full of leather. For the duration of the endemic he is a statistical expert who knows the record of each contender, a game strategist who spots the weak points in a given system of offense or defense, a rules technician who instructs the officials without cost or request. Every basketball canine has his day and this is the  month.

He is a doodler who, while conversing, scribbles free throw lanes with a hundred radiating alleys. In May the three symbols of the New York Fair will take on their intended meaning but in March the helicline is a ramp to the balcony, the trylon is the pyramid of hundreds of teams being narrowed down to the one at the state championship pinnacle and the perisphere has the traditional four panel basketball markings.

In everyday life he is a sane and serious individual trying to earn enough to pay his taxes. But he does a Jekyll-Hyde act when the spell is on him. He likes his coffee black and his basketball highly spiced. He despises the stall unless his team is ahead. It is a major crime for the official to call a foul on the dribbler unless the opponent was dribbling. His moods are as changeable as the March wind. He flies into a frenzy at some trivial happening on the court and before his vocal expression of disapproval is half completed he howls in delight at the humorous twist of a comment from a bleacher wit. He is part of the mass mind and is subject to its whims. He berates the center for attempting a long shot and lauds him when it goes in the basket. He is consistent only in his inconsistencies.

The thud of the ball on the floor, the slap of hands on leather, the swish of the net are music in his ears. He is a connoisseur in matters pertaining to team coordination and artistry in action. The shifting zone, the screen and the spot pass are an open book to him. He speaks the language.

He is biased, noisy, fidgety, boastful and unreasonable but we love him for his imperfections. His lack of inhibitions adds a spontaneity that colors the tournaments. Without darkness there would be no light. A little March madness may complement and contribute to sanity and help keep society on an even keel.
The writer’s temperature is rising. The thing is catching. It’s got me! Gimme that playing schedule!

I did edit Henry’s essay, to the tune of two words. Does Henry’s essay not equally describe a passionate gardener? March Madness-I am sure I have contracted it.

Tuesday Opinion: Tolerances

Tolerances in industry refers to the tolerance for error. (please tolerate this overly simplistic and largely uniformed discussion of industrial tolerances)  Parts manufactured for a coast guard cruiser have to be as close to dead to the right size as any manufacturer can make them.  A government contract may demand parts with a tolerance of .0001-one one thousanth of an inch-or better.  Even closer to perfect. Why would they need a product with this level of accuracy? Many companies may contribute to the construction of that boat.  All the parts from all the manufacturers have to fit together, and fit together remarkably well, for the boat to work.  The time to discover that a part was sloppily made and not working, is not when said cruiser is three miles from shore in a storm. Buck makes strap steel spheres at Branch-some of the 5.5 feet in diameter.  If two pieces of steel cross over one another at just slightly the wrong angle when he begins, that error will compound itself on every cross over to come.  This level of error makes for a sphere that will look out-of-round.  Not life threatening, but not pretty either.  There are those times when a lack of tolerance make sense.

The difference between a landscape drawing and the installation of the drawing can be big, and still work out.  Frequently, maybe always, I have to make adjustments from the ideal-so easily drawn on a piece of paper-to the reality, which is an existing piece of ground.  This and that and more can be shifted and interpreted such that the spirit of the design is intact once it is planted.  The process of landscape design and installation is a big fluid situation, quite unlike getting a space ship into orbit.  Many years ago on a spring melt down day, Rob reacted fiercely.  “Deborah, we are not performing brain surgery on a human being who has a life and family. We plant gardens and landscapes that delight the eye.  We make people happy.  We plant flowers.”  Who could argue with that?

Designers whose tolerance for variation from their design that approaches .0001 inch-whoa.  I wonder how they get through the day.  I am sure there are those whose cache makes that possible-but who would want such a life?  I do not tolerate change from my design with clients-I welcome it.  I adjust, and rethink.  Every person’s experience of nature is not only different than mine, I owe them the respect I tender to any other living thing.  I don’t always need to understand.  I only need to tolerate those ideas which are different than mine.  I want to get through the day.  I want to see the project realized.  I don’t want to live obsessed about a point of view that varies from my own.  An obsessed life works fine for me.  I apply my obsessions to my own life, and my own garden.

Gardeners are a very passionate and opinionated lot.  Of course this includes me.  We like some plants much better than others.  There are those of us for whom the sun rises and sets on a well grown stand of shasta daisies.  There are others whose idea of a decent leaf is measured solely by its square footage.  There are those gardeners who would not think of planting any annual plants.  Some gardeners revere what readily reseeds more than any other plant.  There are those gardeners that grow everything that strikes their fancy.  Some like but three plants-and they grow these three plants in profusion, and in every possible configuration..  There are those who devote the lion’s share of their ground to tomatoes, brussel spouts, and herbs.  Farmer gardeners-very passionate!   There are those who have a plant they intend to explore in depth.  Thus the life of the Camellia Society, and the Peony Society.

There are those who favor wild and native plants.  The wild gardeners love the beauty of the little and ephemeral plants.  The native plants only people garden and mission at the same time. Though I have never felt the urge to convince another gardener to see the natural world how I see it, I respect the sincere feeling that motivates a sense of mission.  There are those who exhibit competitively the dahlias they have grown-a great dahlia show is a pleasure to attend.  There are groups who meet over orchids, and roses.  Gardeners who belong to groups-sociable gardeners.  Some gardeners are only in it for the dash to the finish-an event or wedding or graduation at home that asks for a gardener’s touch.  Some are in it for the long haul-growing gingko trees from seed.  Others value the solitude, and their individual experience of nature.

There are those of us for whom well rotted and garden ready compost is a crowning accomplishment.  Other gardeners are not so hands on.  They may love the beauty of a garden-from afar. They might be so moved as to hire me to design for them.  Another gardener might spring for a master plan, and do the work themselves.  There are those who like orderly, and those who are happiest when the garden is wildly exuberant. There are grower/farmers who intend to feed the planet.  I respect that intent.   There are those growers who serve that small gardening group whose interests are focused on organically grown produce.  Organic milk, specialty vines, heirloom daffodils and apples.  There is room for everyone. A beautiful landscape and garden-there are so many paths to that end.  So many interpretations.

Anyone with a big love for the garden and the landscape gets to be seated under a very big tent.  A seat under this tent is just that-one seat.  Of course your seat can be by itself, or near other people with a similar seat.  Those gardeners around you that love the lawnless look, the wild flowers, the hybrid peonies, house plants, foraged greens, the mowed lawns, heritage tomatoes, perennial borders, hellebore hybrids, espaliered fruit trees, outdoor kitchens, grasses of note, pruned boxwood, pressed flowers, ponds-everyone gets a seat.

Monday Opinion: Diversion

January is by no means my most favorite month.  Being outdoors requires a level of intestinal fortitude I just don’t have.  I dislike the cold.  I dislike the garden- dead to the world.  I hate the relentless gray.  My spirits can be the same color as that sky-gloomy.  A little self-made diversion can help.  The first step is to alleviate that cold.  My boots and slippers alternate on the radiator, so I have warm feet for at least some part of every day. Buck likes an overnight temperature in the house of 64 degrees.  Really.  I have recently added an extra blanket on my side.  I indulge in a hot bath at least once a week, both January and February. I pile on the clothes.  On occasion I keep my coat on all day.  When my winter headband is not on my head, it is around my neck.  Sometimes I wear them in multiples.

I drink lots of coffee, and load it up with half and half. Hot and frequent meals are good, even though getting those January pounds off in late March gets harder every year.  Though I have no interest whatever in cooking, I love reading about food in January.  Reading about food is a much better plan for me than eating, though sometimes I will add a cupcake to that hot cup of coffee.  My favorite place to read online about food is 66 Square Feet.  Her writing is superb, so I am sure what she cooks is every bit as good.  She makes the story of a salad concocted from foraged roadside greens exciting, and satisfying.  The food she prepares with its roots in her South African heritage-it all sounds delicious, not just exotic.  Sustaining.  It just so happens that she gardens as well-what’s not to like about this part?   Her writing is consistently thought provoking and entertaining- her life and times quite interesting.

Reading is an excellent winter diversion.  If I am reading about gardening in January, I like to either be entertained, or transported-or both.  The Garden Outlaw is highly entertaining, sometimes provocative.  His blog post about Christmas lights was incredibly funny.  His take on the gardening world will make you forget that it is January.    If I am looking for a little transport, a tour of an English garden via the Galloping Gardener ( can be just the diversion I need.  I have taken her tours more than one time-they are that good.  The blog Rock Rose ( features a garden so unlike my own that I am transported.  She travels to visit all sorts of other gardens, and is very good at illustrating and writing about her visits.

Any garden reading which is either too involved or too serious makes me sleepy in January.  I am only looking at the pictures in Gardens Illustrated now.  I will read it later in February, when that cooped up feeling gets good and fierce.

I highly recommend an afternoon nap as a perfect January diversion.  It is a very good time to be dreaming about that garden to be.