Thursday, May 31, 2018

The Garden of High Spring: May Opens the Door, the Poppies (and Other Contemporaries) Pop Out

     My theory is there's a lot of water in the ground this year.
Lots of water means lots of plants.
Many, many plants necessarily include a stunningly large helping of weeds.
        Lots of water means lots of of all sorts of other life as well. 
        Birds in the trees, mobbing the bird feeder. Lots of food out there by now, guys!
        But they chitter and chirp and dive-bomb the feeder stations. Pulling the seed out, and shouting the whole day, just as if they've just arrived from a long winter vacation.
         That abundance of life includes living things we sometimes unhappily encounter withdrawing blood from our exposed flesh.
       A lush, wet, warming-up is good for mosquitoes and other living things.
       No roses without thorns.
So where to start? Poppies: popping up all over.
They spread, growing each year more dense, turning our little piece of sidewalk-side plot into a fertile hillside in western Asia.Very clannish, they all come out together. Bloom in huge muddle of paper electric-orange petals, blow all at once, then drop those crepe-paper petals on the sidewalk altogether. The entire cycle lasting but a couple of weeks.
         The second photo down enshrines our rescue of the premature poppy bud that broke off before opening. Anne put it in water in a tiny vase, with only a miniscule seam of orange showing. I doubted it would blossom. The next day it time-lapsed in front of our eyes. By the time I got the camera out, the flower was shrugging off the last corner of its covering like a teenager kicking off a shoe. The short, exuberant life of the Mister Mucho Orange.
       The second shot is a group poppy flop-in from the first couple days of opening. I suppose if these things happened all the time, I wouldn't pay so much attention. But it's only once a year.
         Poppies lead the parade into clematis. In the top photo they are forcing their way up to the porch and through the railings. As if dropping for tea. Actually, I think they expect champagne.
        Columbine, fourth photo down, takes a bow in May as well.
Lilac season, fourth pic down, very exuberant as well ths year. The two lilac trees look a lot different, but their blooms look and behave a lot alike, and we are still in high perfume.
Wiegelia sharing front yard billing with one of the lilacs.
           Have I mentioned Iris, a solid late-May performer, often showing well into June. Two big whites were the first to open, the day before we left to spend Memorial Day weekend in the Berkshires. The Siberian Iris just above igreeted us among a full platoon of his fellows on our return.bearded
        The fourth photo down depicts the Columbine, another mid-May favorite. 
         The sixth photo down shows the white allium that pop up every year all over the garden by means of their own devising.

Monday, May 21, 2018

The Garden of the Heart: Flower Language

That flower to the left, in the second photo from the top of page: It's called "Bleeding Heart." So in the language of flowers, what does it mean to send one of these to someone else?
            Does it mean you express your emotions openly? Or is it meant to say "spurned or rejected" affection? Or that the recipient is too sensitive? Does it express your unconditional love for all creation? Or your belief in a connection between two people enduring beyond life?
            Well, actually, all of them, according to the sources I discovered online when I tried to learn something about the language of flowers.
            Also called floriography, "flower language "is a means of cryptological communication through the use or arrangement of flowers," according to Wikipedia. I.e. a code.
            The sources find it rooted in ancient cultures, citing symbols in the Hebrew Bible's "Song of Songs," and practices throughout Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. Some cite its development (or 'flowering'?) in the Ottoman Empire, before it spread to western Europe. In Elizabethan England we find the 'meanings' of flowers playing a prominent role in Ophelia's "mad scene" in Shakespeare's "Hamlet."
            The practice boomed in 19th century England and the United States, a response I'm guessing to the Romantic movement in poetry and the other arts.
            The repressive code of manners in Victorian England furthered the use of gifts of flowers, or specific flower arrangements (I find), to say things "that could not be spoke aloud" in gentile society.
            I'm not a big fan of repression. On the other hand, if it opened the door to "saying it" with flowers, that's kind of cool.
            And I can't believe that there isn't a Japanese equivalent .
            Here's a glossary of the emotional correspondences assigned to many common flowers:
            So if someone offers you a blue hyacinth, that's an expression of "constancy."
            A violet? "Modesty" (bottom photo). Which, as a compliment, can cover a lot of ground.
            The red peony pictured at the top of the page -- I like this one: "Happy marriage."
            Forget-me-nots, not surprisingly, signify either 'true love' or 'memories.'
            And "ivy" -- there seems to be a big call for flower sentiments of this kind -- expresses "wedded love" and "fidelity."  Of course there are also many varieties of ivy (I don't think they were thinking of poison ivy). English ivy, maybe.
            It's not all good. A cyclamen (a good wintertime indoor plant) signifies "resignation" or even "goodbye."
            A daffodil, of which we see so many in the early spring, stands for "unrequited love." Wow, that's a lot of heartache.
            A begonia means "beware."   
            And a primrose (fourth photo down) means "I can't live without you."
             I agree. I can't live without flowers. Or what they mean. 

Monday, May 14, 2018

The Garden of Verse: Poems in May Grow Flowers, Fathers, and the Hard To Explain

            We may be celebrating Mother's Day this month, but fathers are also showing up big in some poems in May's Verse-Virtual. So are flowers, perhaps unsurprisingly, given the season. So is the uncanny.
            In Laurie Bryo's poem "Mask," the soul of a father appears to have spread itself over the natural realm, in a raccoon that "swaggers" into the house and in further reflections of the forest:
 "wing for hair,
leaves for mouth, stream for skin."
            Then the imagery leaves natural correspondences behind:
rain fills each empty shoe.  A lost shoe on the moon fills
with stardust. Meanwhile, each courage teacher covers
her eyes with brown pebbles, removes a periwinkle shell
battered from tumble. A lawyer soothes his throat with honey
            The imagery lets go. It's eerie, but also wonderful -- and beautiful.

            Sarah White's "Poems by Sons," tells us that men often write about their fathers. Again, we're offered tantalizing images:
"as a man looking out
the window at a lone crow on the road,
or a man shaving while steam
from a small boy’s adoration
rises and clouds the mirror."
            I particularly like the cinematic close-up of a father "looking out the window at the lone crow," but the poem points out the weakness of the second picture.
            As the son realizes when he becomes a father, it's unlikely that Dad shaves with a cloudy mirror. These "Poems by Sons" may tell us little about the fathers, but a good deal more about the sons.

            Why do gardeners make a fuss over their flowering plants? Maybe because they keep teaching the same lesson -- that nothing in life lasts forever, yet life keeps coming. -- and we keep needing to learn it. Linda Fischer's "A Field of Flowers" depicts the gardener "edging a length of the garden
as precisely as a rolled hem."
            The poem takes the comparison further: "Like the gown I once stitched,
languishing in a closet of clothes
I can no longer wear,
horticulture knows but a brief
            But I'm not finding a poem about the futility of labor here. Read what the gardener's "hands reach for" at the end of this poem.

            There is more to heaven and earth than we can find a place for in our philosophy, as comprehensive as we try to make it. In Michael Minassian's surprise-packed fantasy "In the Back Yard I Found a Rotary Phone," we discover that rotary phone humming in the 'garden,' an unidentified "she," a wingless "angel," "tiny gods in aero planes," and the contemplation of a "lamb's kiss."
            Best of all we have this vision:  
"flowers stood about
at the end of their wits"
            Sometime I know just how those flowers feel. We're 'projecting,' of course. This poem makes us stand up and take notice.

            In an "Unnamed Country" by Mary Makofske, life's garden has narrowed to a single tulip on the pavement -- dropped by a hurrying "flower vendor" or perhaps a "husband bearing from the florist shop
an anniversary bouquet."
            In the panic of the moment, no one among the few who slink beside the buildings will stoop to pick that it up. Once again, a poem makes us see ourselves in flowers -- a solitary flower reduced to "these yellow petals and this fragile throat." The starkly abandoned flower tells us all we need to know of what has happened here.

            Angels, those products of poetic imagination without whom we simply cannot do (Rilke, famously, couldn't) make a forceful appearance in Penny Harter's "Honoring Angels":
"one grabbed my hair
and swung me round and round as if we were
playing a child’s game. I knew she would
soon let go, flinging me into the coral mist
surrounding us both..."
            This visionary image, the poem tells us, can be understood in more than one way. In the grasp of that angel, we pay close attention.

            More transcendent images appear in Tricia Knoll's poem with the Yeatsian title "The Opera Company Sells Its Costumes":
hover as we wrap up inside sequined warrior
fatigues, mummy wraps, gowns smirched with blood
from spousal blows, neoprene court jackets,
or wool doublets of shepherds."
            The poem soars, leaving the material facts of the weather charts -- "clouds" -- behind. Sometimes leaving our everyday language behind is the only way to fly. And what an interesting sound that word "neoprene" makes. I had to look it up and was rewarded with this mouthful: "neoprene: synthetic polymer resembling rubber, resistant to oil, heat, and weathering." Poems are also resistant to weathering.

            In Robert Wexelblatt's "A Moment's Change," we meet another flower:
"Imagine her coming into the room
smiling because she knows you still love
her; how then that smile shrivels
promptly as Mojave mariposas."
             Mojave mariposas, another wonderful mouthful, are also new to me. Poems send us to places we haven't been (Mojave in my case). But we're familiar with the concept of 'quick-blooming,' as we are as well with the word "prognosis," which follows quickly in this tightly-written, devastating poem.

            In Michael Gessner's beautifully written poem "Painted Hands," we learn:
"The ancients used slick swells of stone
walls and ceilings to give the impression
of moving upward in the flickering light,
often found in recesses absent
of any forms of human life
as if yearning had no body."
            The phrase "as if yearning had no body" responds to the image of handprints on stone that accompanies this poem so perfectly that we already have more than enough here to remember. But this poem has more for us, especially its final speculation on what these images of ancient hands on stone may say to us about the longing for community, or perhaps 'communion.'

            A lot of wonderful poems in this May 2018 issue of Verse-Virtual, with a lot to say to us. 
            You can find them here:

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The Garden of the Seasons: Back to Life

It's hard to illustrate in a photo of a single plant, or colony, however advanced or retrograde that plant's progress is, how the look of things has changed in the overall, everywhere-you-look perspective. 
         Green everywhere, color popping up here and there in various places. The expected ones, the Vinca Minor and the bulbs, but also in the largely forgotten habitues of late May, seen now for a week or two, but then retreating back into masses for the rest of the year. 
              The Japanese primrose (top photo) for instance. Very small, competing for space and earth and nutrients in a level bed overrun in recent years by tall lanky loosestrife. 
           I rush to take its picture now, before the big boys get up, stretch, and stand up straight, leaving the spring bloomer to hide in the shade until another chance next year. This strongly violet colored flower is matched by another plant of what appears to be the same variety of primrose, but blooms a dark pink. Anne sees these blues and pinks matching up on the dance floor of the Kingdom of Plants. 
             Looking to learn something about the primrose, I end up learning about its name. The prim is from "prime," and primrose symbolizes youth because they bloom in the early spring. In Norse mythology the primrose is connected to Freya, the goddess of love.
          Another spring visitor is a plant called Spring Vetch (pictured at left). Its buds open before I can stop shivering in my daily visits to April's versions of spring. It is peaking now . It grows in a place very close to a very big oak tree, a site not many plants attempt. I'm not sure what moved me to place it there in the early years. A lot of trials; a lot of errors.I have the impression that the plant enjoys the lack of competition for space on a site where it, unlike most competitors can manage to bud and blossom and go to seed before the tree overhead fully leafs out and blocks all the sun. It gets its sun when the getting's good.
        According to a very botanically correct website, 
the plant Lathyrus vernus, also named 'Spring Pea,' and 'Spring Vetchling' grows in the form of a perennial herb, up to a height of 8 to 15 inches. Frankly, our two plants are there already. Here's the rest of the site's pretty tart description of its appearance: "Stem erect, bristly, wingless, almost glabrous." Glabrous sends me searching the internet again, where I find this definition:
"the technical term for a lack of hair, down, setae, trichomes or other such covering." OK, done with technical. 
        Vetch is actually quite fetching in its season. Which is now.
         Other perennials, blooming or not, change every day, filling in the space, in a rush to claim all they can claim, making this early May period in one sense the most exciting part of the year. The fast-spreading species, like the Vinca Minor and the wild violets (bottom photo) that flower now, blossom everywhere they've spread too. Or if a plant is alone in the world of the garden -- just one place, one moment -- like this small patch of spring vetch, or the two primroses -- they go all out.

            We'll see the leaves of the violets all year, but only have the violet blossoms for these couple of weeks. They take their opportunity now before larger plants crowd them out, and the trees leaf out to take their lionish share of the sunlight. 
            Daffodils blooming a bright yellow last week have faded this week. Their little clock has chimed all its hours. I always think, I should cut a few and bring them indoors. 
            Some other early blooming perennials shown in these photos are the tulip, grape narcissus (the spiked blue flowers seen in the second and third photos down), the bleeding heart (second to last photo).  

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

The Garden of the Seasons: Happy May Day!

            Happy May Day, everybody. For much of the world May Day is a holiday for working people, who march in great numbers down the main streets of capital cities, or join protests -- against a corrupt president in the Philippines, or their exploitation as migrant workers in a wealthy country -- or defiantly celebrate a 60-year-old revolution inspired by people like Che Guevara. 
            For those of us living in New England, it's like "OK, maybe we can walk around in shirtsleeves for a couple of days. When the weather changes for the better on a fortunate date -- this sunlit, steadily warming First of May -- everything looks better.
            Truthfully, the last week of April warmed up sufficiently for me to make progress out of doors in clearing last year's debris from the perennial garden.
            The weeping Japanese tree (top of page) had its own cherry blossom season.
            The blossoms on the red maple tree out front rained down after an all-day shower and turned the sidewalk into a spatter canvas by some artist who really liked red.
            The vinca blossomed and spotted up violet (see bottom photo), about two weeks behind its usual schedule, in its many expanding colonies.
            The English ivy, that covers literally everything in its path, including a once-thick patch of Vinca Minor, received a two-hour gloved-hands thinning on a mild Saturday afternoon.
            The birds sang, and in the case of the robin posed politely for photo (see second from bottom photo), and we continued to feed them.
            A woodchuck meandered through our neighbor's lawn and took a sharp U-turn when he saw us coming.
            A nuthatch visited our feeder and then did a quick inspection of a nearby tree in his customary tail over head, upside-down-appearing fashion. The other birds resisted the temptation to imitate him and kept their own heads high.
            The hyacinths deepened their hues.
            The Japanese primrose made its annual early-spring appearance (see fourth photo). It has since opened two more blossoms.
            The pansies and the grape hyacinth brightened up the sidewalk strip (see third photo from top).
              We're hoping all these new friends will soon have plenty of company.