Monday Opinion: Inside Out

For the past three years, my sister in law Tine has sent me a Christmas ornament of the Eiffel Tower.  That is, she sends the same ornament, every year.  I don’t really know who makes them, or where she buys them, but I choose to believe she buys them in Paris, and brings them home for me.  This may be nonsense-her local Ace Hardware may carry them. Or maybe she found 20 of them in a resale shop somewhere.  I only know I have never seen them anywhere but on this kiwi topiary tree in my dining room. Not that I need any explanation.  They are beautiful-a very delicate pale gold and an equally elegant pale blue.  Like I imagine Paris to be. 

 I will interpret the meaning of this gift for you.  Pete and Tine go to Paris every year, in the spring.  She wants me to go with them to Paris, in late May.  Any year would be fine.  They would stay as long as I liked.  They would take me anywhere else in France I would like to go, for as long as I wanted.  We would see the gardens, of course.  But we would also see the shops the markets, and the museums-and surely, the Eiffel Tower.  Normandy-we would go.  The south of France-we would linger there.  She is extraordinarily patient about this request.  She does not lecture, berate, or attempt to persuade me.  She just sends me the Eiffel Tower Christmas ornament-a beautiful reminder of what could be.

There are so many places I would like to visit-the end of May.  France of course, and surely all of Italy.  The Chelsea Flower showI am certain it is extraordinary.  As for the Netherlands and Belgium-a spring trip would be lovely.  The spring in Spain-what is that like?  Does Iceland have a spring?  South Africa-I imagine the country, the wild flowers, and the gardens turn plenty of gardening heads in the spring.  Don’t forget Texas, or Philadelphia, or Scotland, or Vancouver.  I hear that the Appalachian mountains are beautiful in the spring.  What place on earth wouldn’t be grand in the spring?

It’s a good thing that I have a landscape and garden.  I am always home in the spring, more often than not, working.  Most of my exposure to spring in other places is anecdotal.  Other people’s gardens.  Other people’s trips in the spring.  Other people’s photographs.  via ther people’s writings, drawings, publications and music.  Lucky for me, considering I live inside my own world much more than out there.  A new year brings possibilities with it.  I have a standing opportunity to go to Paris.  And a standing date with the garden, come spring.  




Garden Moments 2012

What are great garden moments?  The shock of realizing after the first snow in January that the garden is entering its black and white phase-like it or not.  I cannot really explain why this constitutes a great moment-it just is. 

A great moment could be as short as the blink of an eye, or as long as 20 minutes.  Moments any longer than this- which are not necessarily great moments- have to do with dental appointments, grocery checkout lines, designing, fixing a zipper, or designing.  Moments that seem to go on forever have to do with traffic jams, speeches, meetings, and the sky in the dead of winter.  This wet and snowy February day, the color was unexpectedly rich and warm.  A warm winter moment.

Great moments in the garden are not necessarily that momentous.  It could be the first time you hear the birds singing in the spring, or the first sign of the hellebores and crocus pushing forth in March.  It could be the sun that bathes a landscape in jewel like light just after a rain.  It could be that moment when you realize that a tree or a bench would be strikingly better over there.  It could be that triumphal feeling that comes when a seed finally germinates, or that heady pleasure that spreads all over everything on a beautiful summer day.  It could be the day you decide without fanfare to become a gardener.  It could be the first day you drag debris to a compost pile.  It could be the moment that a long sought after vine arrives in the mail.  Or it could be that moment in March when it became shockingly unclear whether the dogwood buds would survive the hard frost.

Every gardener’s great garden moments are individual.  My garden is the color of lush in April.  I spend a lot of time drinking this in, after the winter which is always too long.  Nothing much to see here,  but that atmosphere of anticipation is palpable.

Talking about gardening is how gardeners relate to one another.  Our warm 2012 winter, and the relentless spring hard freeze made for a lot of anxious talk in my circle.  But in the talk, there was community.  We were all equally miserable, frustrated, and vocal over it. Roses blooming in May made me nervous.  Roses blooming only intermittently, a disappointment.

Of course my most precious garden moment in 2012 was that day in June, in my garden, when I told Rob and the store staff that I had put the store in trust for him.     

July belongs to the hydrangeas.  How I love them!

In August, the annual containers shed their adolescent gawkiness, and begin to look grown up.

In September, the containers are bursting at the seams.  This moment, coming after an entire spring and summer bringing them on, is pure pleasure.

In October, the color is as crisp and sharp as the cool air.  My Norway maple sheds leaves like crazy for a month.  The day I quit raking them up was a surprisingly beautiful day indeed.  All the yellow on the ground made for a moment.   

This might be my most favorite photographic moment of the gardening year.  The end of the season color of the asparagus and rose canes- perfectly melancholy. 

Not ever having chosen to have an evergreen garland at the holidays before, I was surprised at how very much I liked it.  Cozy is good when it’s cold and December.  Having a garden-good every month of the year.

Gray Day

The fire that was our fall has burnt itself out, but for a few embers here and there.  Those embers are largely the heat that is generated by passionate gardeners.  The plans to plant bulbs.  How to store the cannas.  What they feel they must try-next season.  A new house requiring some semblance of a landscape before the snow flies.  But the fact remains that the leaves from our shop wall of boston ivy fell in unison overnight, making a crispy heap all along the base of the wall. The skies have been rainy and gray all day-the wind brisk and cold.  The color in the garden this late-muted, and dry.     

My small rose garden is but a shadow of its summer self.  The last few flowers on the Sally Holmes roses are droopy, the petals punctuated by rose pink markings from the cold rain.  The asparagus, weighted down by the cold rain, is grudgingly turning yellow.  Along with my Parrotias, it is the last plant in garden to succumb to the fall, and turn color. Once the asparagus turns, I know the gray days are soon to come.

Buck shut the fountain down a week ago.  Dry maple leaves floated on the still surface.  Many more maple leaves have sunk to the bottom,  turning the water brown.  The decomposing leaves stain the stone.  He drained the pool yesterday.  I am in no hurry to go see it-empty.  Closing the fountain is every bit as emotional day as that day when we open it in the spring.  The opening and closing-part and parcel of gardening in a zone that has four seasons.

What plant could possibly be more dramatic about about the close of the gardening season than the hostas?  Once the cold infiltrates their stems and leaves, they collapse in a mushy heap on the ground.  Flattened-that is exactly how the late fall makes me feel.  It’s too late to garden, beyond the planting of the fall bulbs.  It’s too early for winter. It’s too early for a down coat, but its too late for a sweater.  It is way too early to wring my hands, and wish the season had been better.  It is too late to plant a few more anemones.       

We did redo a landscape on a small property last week; this renovation included a sizeable perennial garden.  If I plant perennials this late in the fall, I am sure to tromp down the rootballs firmly.  No rooting will take place now, and the frost coming out of the ground in the spring will want to heave those rootballs out of the ground.  We stamp every plant down firmly.  At the end of winter, when the frost starts coming out of the ground, we will check to be sure no plants have heaved up. 

Though we are still actively involved in the installation of landscapes, several of which are for newly constructed homes, the close of the gardening season is tough to take. Amazingly, we have not had a hard frost yet.  Down the street from me, a marigold border is flat out gorgeous.  Maybe it’s just my gray-colored glasses, but most of the landscape looks like it is grieving.

Astonishing how the leaves of the Boston ivy fall all at once, leaving their stalwart pink stems still attached.  These rosy stems defying gravity made me smile- in spite of that  cloud of gloom following me around.

The coming of the dark-I do not welcome it.  But there will be moments, experiences to come that I will enjoy.  The winter season in Michigan-who knows what nature has in store for this year.  Putting the shovel and the pruners away means there will be time for the holidays, the winter containers, the books – and the planning for the new season to come.  This was a very hard season-I am not so sorry to see it gone.  The April frosts that killed every flower on my magnolias, and the extreme heat and drought that challenged all of my summer gardening efforts-I am relieved to see that come to a closeIn spite of this griping about my summer season, I am sorry to see it gone.



Monday Opinion: The Dreaded Gaposis

Gaposis?  Though it isn’t a real word, it describes a spot I’ve been in all too many times.  It  is not too tough to figure out what it means.  A gap is an opening, or space.  Does not everyone remember that look, having lost a front baby tooth?  So embarrasing, that gap.  The Cumberland Gap is a naturally existing  passage way through the Cumberland mountains.  This deep sloping ravine, improved upon by pioneering Americans,  was the opening in the southern Appalachian mountains that permitted travel.  A gap can also refer to an interruption in a thought or design, a breach in a wall, a missing verb, or a miscalculation.  A gap is an obvious and conspicuous imbalance.  All this-from an online dictionary. The suffix -osis is usually found at the end of a noun.  Osis refers to a process, or state.  Metamorphosis-the process of changing from one form to another.

My imaginary word gaposis refers to a missing piece, a lack of continuity that results in empty, inexplicable,  unproductive, or unbalanced exchange.  or space.    A gaposis in one’s chain of thought means that a thought not clearly expressed might not be understood.  A gaposis in a design interrupts the intended rhythm.  A dead lavender in a lavender hedge is a gaposis.  It is a clear sign that something is missing.  That gap subtracts from the beauty of the remaining plants. Continuity which is abruptly breached by some unforeseen gap detracts from the overall fluidity effectiveness of an argument, an essay, a landscape plan, a sea wall, an idea;  blips-have you not had them? 

Routinely I have clients ask me questions I cannot answer.  I admit the gaposis in my knowledge, but assure them I will try to find the answer.  Some questions have no answer.  If a client wants me to promise that the Maureen tulips will be in full bloom the day her daughter gets married, I won’t.  But I will tell her I won’t let her go over the cliff and into the gap alone.  There needs to be a plan B in place.  There are gaps in my knowledge of the history of landscape design.  There are gaps in my knowledge of horticulture.  There are gaps all over my landscape.    

It is reasonable for my clients to assume I am educated in regards to good planting practices, horticulture, and design.  Anything and everything I learn about the history of landscape and garden design, the identity and cultivation of plants makes me a better designer.  I buy books, and read them.  I hope everything that I read, and my experience makes for as gaposis free as possible client experience.  Any bill that goes out from my office details the work – start to finish.  The genus and species of every plant we plant-detailed, and spelled right.  No gaps.

In my opinion, the word and the meaning of gaposis needs to be introduced to the popular landscape design vernacular.  Unattended gaps should worry any design professional.  It is as important to see what is missing as it is to edit.  For those of you gardeners who garden on your own, make sure your design has purpose, and logic.  A landscape space that flows is gap free.      

Every gap can be filled with knowledge and experience.  Until the next new gap comes along, that is.