Complexity in Nature
“Thou blossom bright with morning dew
And covered with the heaven’s own blue
That openest, when the quiet light
Succeeds the keen and frosty night”
--William Cullen Bryant
Oct. 18. According to The Farmer’s Almanac, on this day in 1876 the US took formal possesion of Alaska (though what these history tidbits have to do with gardening I have always quite failed to understand). The sweet, sharp autumn air on this most glorious fall day would have made me a pagan if I wasn’t already one. As I breathed it in my whole being felt suffused with golden light. In the big driveway pots rosy pink chrysanthemums hung heavy, spilling over the pot rims in a drips of color, nearly touching the bright carpet of blood red dogwood, yellow hackberry and a veritable rainbow of oak leaves. My barely containable joy on this most magic of days burst wide with the discovery that the UPS man had left a package for me on the porch. My order of bulbs had come! I tore eagerly into the box, not even noticing that I was breaking fingernails in the process, and inhaled the fragrance the wafted from the bags inside—the earthy smell of crocus, tulips, daffodils, and the faintly , pleasantly skunky smell of crown imperial. Though the year was winding down, my gardening year was just beginning!
I have always loved the fall ritual of bulbs, hiding them in secret places among the grass and plants, between rocks and in flower beds, at the feet of trees and tucked beside the stepping stones where I would be sure to see them in the spring on my daily walks. Then in the spring, like the squirrels who have forgotten where they have hidden their acorns, I am delightedly surprised to find them in unexpected places.
My garden is not a new one; rather it is a collection of hopes, dreams and memories of many years. Definitely informal, wildflowers springing where they may, being allowed to reseed freely and only removed or thinned when they become so thick as to rudely crowd their neighbors out or get crushed underfoot. The “lawn”, or so we laughingly refer to it as, is a carpet of wildlings: spring beauties, wild phlox, dandelions, bluets, starry chickweed, oxalis, star of Bethlehem, buttercups in the spring, and only reverts to a mix of grasses and other green stuff in early summer, when it finally gets mowed, and then only in patches until the last of the wildflowers are done. I steadfastedly refuse to let anyone put any chemicals on it, only reseeding with bluegrass in the bare spots when I can’t stand to look at them any longer.
Shade moves across my almost-acre, leaving me with very few sunny spots and mostly dappled, shifting shade. Underneath my beloved wildflowers thrive and multiply in the beds that circle the stone cottage which shelters my husband and I, line the boundaries of our property and wander down into the woods. Some simply grow where they want to, and not always in the same places every year. It is always a surprise to have a whole group of black-eyed susans or Queen Anne’s lace suddenly decide to move 50 feet away to the other side of the house from one year to the next.
But it is a garden of constant change, both according to the whims of Nature, and of my nature. And today was for digging my trowel into the ground and planting, for new beginnings. As I dug into the earth I thanked the Mother for her blessed bounty, for the soft earth, the rain that would make my flowers grow, for the sunshine to give them warmth. A garden is not made by a gardener alone, nor in a day, nor in a generation even. It is a sort of hereditary thing that goes on and on, and needs cooperation between one and Nature; and Nature teaches the person and makes the gardener as well as the garden.Crocuses, daffodils, hyacinths and snowdrops go in the long, curving shady border at the edge of the lawn, in the transition zone between the house and the woods, among hostas, ferns, astilbes, coral bells, ajuga, columbine tricirtis, and under the two dogwoods, one pink and one white, that were planted this last spring and will eventually, in three or four years, grace this bed with their spring flowers. Gardening gives a person lots of time for thought, and as I dug in the warm moist soil I reflected that we plant, as we do things in all life, not for today but for the future, always looking forward to our vision of what we hope it will be like. It was 15 years ago that I began building upon this garden, in this place, and I am still looking forward to the next year of growth, in the garden as well as in myself.
It is time to take a break, and decide my next move. As usual, between ordering these bulbs in spring and the receiving of them in the fall I have forgotten where I intended to put them all. A garden diary, with copious notes, is a necessity in a garden as extended as this one. I really try to keep one each year, if only to write my notes on the calendar, but the proverbial best intentions….. As I sit on the picnic bench in the clearing, the October sun makes me shuck off my light jacket. Rustlings in the woods make me look: a pair of squirrels are playing chase in the dry leaves, tearing round and round in spirals up and down the trees and my Abyssinian cat, Tafari looks up from his perch on the retaining wall, ears perked and ready to join the game. A glimpse of blue through the trees catches my eye, and easily distracted that I am, I’m off down the trail that leads through the wood, my feet making crunchy noises in the leaves that are covering the mulched path. A patch of wild blue asters is blooming in the field beyond my woods and I pick a few for my kitchen window. My chair on the sunny deck beckons me and cup of mint tea in hand I sit and daydream over the garden, but not for long: soon I’m on my feet looking to see what’s going on down there. Weeds need pulled here and there, and before long my tea mug is put down somewhere and forgotten and I’m contentedly back planting bulbs.