Sunday, May 22, 2011


Time seems more and more slippery as I age. One year, one month, one moment more firmly braided into the other, emerging from the other like a new snake from an old skin. At no time is this more obvious than in spring. I have an itchy need myself to change. To strip free, unfold, awaken. To re-green.
A dear friend of mine who reads this blog regularly asked me why I changed the design of my blog so much. I guess because it’s easier than painting the house or the extra bedroom. Easier then finding someone to give me a desperately needed hair cut now that my Laotian hairdresser has disappeared with out a trace. I worry, I worry.
I worry, dear readers, that you will get bored with the same-old-page week after week like I do. Magazines change their faces regularly. The seasons change, and so do I. My blog seemed so wintery all black, dark and cramped. I wanted to set it free, let it express the lush new world I face each day.
When I talked to my mother on Mother’s Day, she was jubilant as a a spring song sparrow. “The grass is just jumping out of the ground,” she chirped. She had looked out over the still brown pastures in the morning, winter leaves late in the Upper Pennisula of Michigan, by afternoon all was vibrant green. I can remember the speed of the re-greening in the midwest, the fresh emergent green that delights and energizes. I began for us months ago and progressed langurously through one of the coldest springs on record. Now everything is so green you can’t even see green any more, or imagine the months when it vanishes. Here in the Evergreen State, where dark conifers dominate and green never totally retreats the re-greening of trees and fields is slower, easier to ignore. I was blind to green, my head buried in my work and worry.
Last week I was doing some transplanting for a client. I was thinking about my grandfather who was an estate gardener, too. I was feeling grumpy about being out in the chilly morning air digging, as I’m sure he often was. He was a grumpy old man who most of his grandchildren could not appreciate. To me he was magical with his stories of growing up in Brazil, his knowledge of nature, even his grumpiness seemed like a power and not a short coming. When I was doing my grumpy digging I dug up a piece of debris. The garden in which I was working is a new garden, I never find a chard of pottery or an aluminum pop-top, so to finally dig something up was quite exciting. I like finding bits of the past, pulling them out of the dirt and into the light. The something I found was on an old Pall Mall cigarette pack, my grandfather’s brand. It’s red and white printed paper was protected by the cellophane wrapper for years in the earth. It seemed spooky strange and yet comforting to find that Pall Mall package while thinking of my grandfather 30 years after his passing. As if from the underworld, the other side he was saying hello. It was also my brand for a while after he died, some strange reach for continuity, just like being a gardner is, and perhaps the grumpiness.

I don’t really like being grumpy in spring, while every blade of grass and flower is being so joyous. Each year I swear I will take spring slower the next year so I can enjoy it. And each year spring and the busy season comes and I’m a rushing grump again. I know there are remedies for this. Sometimes it’s a beer, other times a nap. But this week I found an even better solution: joy. It took a little work and a little caffeine to find it, but it’s there among the flowers. In particular the tulip ‘Happy Generation’.

I had stopped at Wells Medina Nursery, one of many nursery stops in my busy day. In their mixed borders they had planted a miscellany of tulips, that I actually took a moment to enjoy. And what a joy they brought. Especially ‘Happy Generation’. There is something about the combination of red and white. The fierceness of red balanced by the cool sophistication of white breeds pure cheerfulness. Why do you think circus tents are red and white?
I know there is a certain Christmassy sort of tackiness to this color combination, but it makes me squirm with childish delight. Candy canes and Santa come to mind, but also Valentiney wishes. “Be mine, be mine.” Who can decline these cupidinous wishes’ kisses? So I let these tulips kiss me all over. And I began to laugh. I suddenly remembered why I was gardening, and at such a fierce pace. I was not for money, or too keep busy, but for joy. Joy, that word I rarely use, too antiquated, too Christmasy for any other time of year, is what filled me.
One of my first memories is of sticking my face into a big red tulip, a gigantic tulip compared to my two year old face. A group of adults stood around smiling as I took a whiff. In my memory I have no thoughts, just the un”adult”erated feeling of joy.
I forget, I forget about this joy in getting caught up in my grumpy adult life. But it only took a tulip to remind me and then I saw red and white everywhere in the gardens I create.

Cytisus alba ‘Elegantissima’ froths over Rhododendron ‘Winsome’

Tulipa ‘Red Shine’ behind a variegated boxwood.

Once I was woken up by red and white I could see the green. The spring greens are already darkening into summer greens, which will become the golden greens of August before it all drops away again to the dark, dark greens of winter when I can legitimately sing “Joy to the World”.

And suck on a candy cane.