Entries in Plough down sillion (12)


The Year of the Garden

Above is a photo taken last June of my perennial border, featuring irises divided from my mother-in-law's yard and a rose named Gertrude Jekyll.

Six years ago, I was merely an armchair gardener. Living in our Upper West Side apartment with young children afforded little opportunity for working the earth; lack of childcare resources frustrated my desires to join the doughty corps of the Central Park Conservancy Volunteers. As it was, we loved and nearly daily appreciated Manhattan's parks. I was never happier there than when pushing the stroller along the Hudson River or through the North Woods near Harlem Meer. Much as I loved city life, I did find sweet escape from life's travails reading Barbara Damrosch's Garden Primer or Sallyann Murphy's Bean Blossom Dreams.

Michael Pollan wrote, "Much of gardening is a return, an effort at recovering remembered landscapes." This is certainly true for me. My love of gardening stems from my memory of the Edenic harmony achieved by my grandmother in California's Central Valley. Grandma's front porch was lined with a hedge of gardenias--blissful on a steamy August evening.

In her back yard, my sisters and I were free to pick and consume as many strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries; apricots, plums, Concord grapes; and walnuts and pecans as we liked. I recall with deep gratitude lying in Grandma's hammock and turning the pages of Felix Salten's Perri or Howard Pyle's Robin Hood with fruit-stained fingers. It was not until I was much older that I realized that gardenias, apricots, and blackberries are counted as luxuries in today's world. They surrounded me as a child, and as such I both treasured them and took them for granted.

Five and a half years ago, we moved to the country, and my aim became (and remains) to recreate Grandma's haven for our family. Our first spring I started with just one four-by-four-foot square plot, a la Square Foot Gardening, plus a little extra room for James's kindergarten-sprouted pumpkin plant. I quickly learned that all the book learning in the world is no substitute for hands-on, dirt-under-the-fingernails experience. My most vivid lesson was realizing that there may be little hammock time for the person who is creating and maintaining the garden--and I'm actually okay with that. Flushed with a little success (a few salads and a mammoth jack-o-lantern), we expanded the following year.

I continue to read gardening books voraciously. Patricia Lanza was very influential early on, as was Mrs. Greenthumbs, a.k.a. the late and very much mourned Cassandra Danz. Michael Weishan's aesthetics awe and inspire me; if I were a millionaire, I'd hire him to come in and do my landscape design. I just finished reading Second Nature, by Michael Pollan. What a gift.

Then there are the catalogs. Someone more witty than I once wrote that White Flower Farm's catalog amounts to gardening porn; I have to agree. I haven't yet been able to afford any of their gorgeous offerings, but I drool and swoon over their full-color coated stock pages like a hormone-crazed teenager. Far more within the realm of my budget (and with peerless customer service) is Bluestone Perennials. They actually guarantee their seedlings for a year. Don't ask how I know, but they're good for it.

For seeds, there is no substitute for Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. I try to order as many of my vegetable seeds as possible from them--they are good folks and support a number of worthy causes. Forget Burpee; these people collect exotic melons, tomatoes, and other specimens from all over the world. Why plant hybrid cantaloupes when you can have Tigger Melons (from Armenia) or the Hero of Lockinge? Look at their website; you'll see what I mean. I also order from Seeds of Change--most of my herbs come from them. They have seed donation programs similar to Baker Creek's and are big permaculture fans.

Speaking of permaculture, that's our focus this year. I own several weighty textbooks on the subject, but the clearest and most succinct book on the subject is In Gaia's Garden, by Toby Hemenway. What is permaculture? I'm not going to bore any of you still reading at this point with a lecture; look it up on Wikipedia. It's very, very cool, though. I met with a permaculture designer last fall. He's working up a plan for us to incorporate a considerable portion of Edible Landscaping's catalog into our yard this spring--very exciting.

You already know about my addiction to English Roses. Antique and English roses tend to bring out the excess in anyone who experiences them first hand. Rosarians are often British and therefore somewhat stoic about life in general. Ask them about their subject, however, and steel yourself. They will wax rhapsodic in an embarrassing manner usually reserved for teenagers gushing over their favorite rock star. Trust me: these roses are nothing like the ones in your prom corsage. Lush, fragrant, sensual--I can't get enough of them.

Will I ever achieve the garden of my dreams? Maybe when my own grandchildren are running around our place. Fortunately, I find the journey as rewarding as my contemplation of the vision--the only reason to keep doing anything, in my opinion.


...the past three months? Part 2

Here's a photo of Marvin working on the renovation of our kitchen/living room. It was taken at the end of October; the job is 98% done as I write. Hurray! I have the house of my dreams. More on this later.

Can you believe I was still gathering roses the week of Thanksgiving? So far, it's been a remarkably mild fall-into-winter. I'm doing everything I can to avert global climate change, but there is a silver lining to every cloud....I have ten David Austin English Rose bushes at last count. This is an addiction I have no intention of overcoming. These roses are hardy, repeat blooming, and disease-resistant; the flowers are fragrant, long-lasting, and gorgeous. Here they are arranged with some late cinnamon basil.

Knitting, knitting, knitting. Tess's teacher requested that all the kindergartners come to school with hats; I made this one a couple of weeks ago from a great knitty pattern ("Coronet") out of luscious Malabrigo wool (Molly colourway). Of course, Hope had to have one next; her colourway is appropriately entitled "Verde Esperanza."

Of course, where there is knitting (for me, anyway), there is ripping out. I designed an aran sweater to be knit in the round using Elizabeth Zimmerman's brilliant guidelines in The Opinionated Knitter. I used the gorgeous wool Carmen and Shauna brought me back from Ireland--a creamy oatmeal tweed--soft, yet crunchy enough for good pattern definition. I knit happily away until I got to the underarms. I then realized that my blackberries were going to be bobbling in strategically bad places. Out the whole thing came. I'll edit my design and start it over once I've finished what's on the needles now: a cropped turtleneck pullover using chunky plum wool bought at La Droguerie in Paris years ago. Down, stash, down!

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