Il Faut Cultiver Notre Jardin

I haven’t posted here in too long — I spent the month of May posting daily on my other blog, “Serenity Now”, in a “Roses de Mai Marathon” of rose-centered fragrances. It was great fun, and it took my mind off the ongoing pandemic, social isolation, etc. I am privileged to be able to work from home, so my employment has not been interrupted; and my family are all safe and well, which is such a blessing.

The events of the last ten days here in America have been astounding, and it is taking me a while to process them. Meanwhile, we have had a beautiful spring; my own roses have been spectacular (and are now starting a second flush of bloom), and I’ve planted what I call my “virus victory vegetable garden”, which is flourishing. We’ve already harvested our first purple cauliflower, which got much bigger than the photo below, and it was delicious!

The peace and beauty of my city garden, and the weather, contrast so much with the conflict just outside my neighborhood. It is quite jarring, and my husband and I comment on that dissonance often on our regular walks. I’ve been thinking a lot about Voltaire’s famous ending phrase from his novel Candide, “Il faut cultiver notre jardin.” What does it mean?

Literally, in English, it means “We must cultivate our garden.” Sometimes that is taken to mean that it is useless to try to understand or counter the wider world’s troubles, and that all one can do is retreat to one’s own garden.

Tempting as that is, for an introverted gardener like myself, I don’t think that’s it. Or maybe, I prefer to think that’s not it. Adam Gopnik wrote in “The New Yorker” magazine, some years ago, in response to a translator who translated it as “We need to work our fields” (which implies something very different):

By “garden” Voltaire meant a garden, not a field—not the land and task to which we are chained by nature but the better place we build by love. The force of that last great injunction, “We must cultivate our garden,” is that our responsibility is local, and concentrated on immediate action.

Whether or not that is what Voltaire intended over 250 years ago, that resonates with me. So I will cultivate both roses and vegetables in my actual garden, and I will do my best to fulfill my immediate and local responsibilities to advance justice and peace, and build a better place by love. Right here, right now, where I live. After all, bees love flowers, but they are also symbols of peaceful, industrious activity, and community.

If you’ve read this far, I hope you and your family, and your garden, are staying safe and well.

More Signs of Spring

Blooms of lily of the valley or muguet

The first lily of the valley blooms have emerged in my garden, in the last days of March. I love lilies of the valley but they can be hard to grow here in Zone 7, so I’m delighted that these have decided to return. They emit one of my favorite fragrances, the inimitable “muguet“.  Do you grow lilies of the valley? When do they emerge in your garden?

Ghost Gardens

Gardens at Chatsworth revealed by drought; image by OLIVER JESSOP/CHATSWORTH HOUSE.

This past summer’s drought in the British Isles and Ireland have revealed many subterranean secrets, from ancient prehistoric sites to hidden garden structures and outlines. Here is a wonderful article about one such revelation: How a Heat Wave Revealed the Outlines of a Hidden Garden and Ghost Village.  I have never visited Chatsworth, although it is on my list to see, especially as it hosts one of the Royal Horticultural Society’s famous flower shows, the “RHS Chatsworth Flower Show.”

I did visit England this past May, and attend the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, before the summer of drought. On a later summer visit to Ireland, in August, the gardeners at Powerscourt were bemoaning the drought and its effect on their beautiful gardens. I must say, the gardens were still spectacular and I can’t wait to visit them again!

Gardener’s Glove

I’ve just discovered a fragrance that is perfect for any gardener! It is called Gardener’s Glove and it is made by an artisanal dairy farmer called Diane St. Clair, who makes some of the finest butter in the world at her farm in Vermont. If you’re not already charmed by now, I don’t know what to tell you. Her fragrance company is called St. Clair Scents.

Gardeners Glove St Clair Scents

Here is my review over at Serenity Now: Fragrance Friday: St. Clair Scents’ Gardener’s Glove. Enjoy! What scents remind you of childhood gardens?

vegetable-garden-illustration

 

Rethinking “Pretty”

Wildflower planting with native cosmos by Georgia highway

Blogger Allen Bush has just published a fascinating exchange (“Time to ‘Rethink Pretty’ in the Garden”) he had with Benjamin Vogt, prairie garden designer, activist, and author of the book “A New Garden Ethic: Cultivating Defiant Compassion for an Uncertain Future.” That book is now on my reading list!

I have been shrinking the size of my already small front and back lawns steadily over the years, although I’ve been doing that by expanding traditional flowerbeds, adding wildflowers, and creating small groves of understory trees that include native dogwoods. I do still love and plant non-natives, but I try also to plant consciously to attract and support birds, pollinators, butterflies. I inherited a garden full of old, well-established azaleas and have left them, but have started underplanting them with plants like pink evening primrose and native ferns, and adding native azaleas to their numbers. I am fortunate in that I live in an historic neighborhood where every house and garden looks different, and creative gardens are prized. I can think of more than one home where Benjamin’s prairie garden would fit right in!

I live in a Southeastern state that is not particularly progressive, but one thing it does very well is to use roadside plantings to cultivate meadow-like swathes of native wildflowers. I appreciate both the beauty and the effort.

 

 

RHS Chelsea Flower Show!

Though I’ll not be able to visit the Royal Horticultural Society’s Chelsea Flower Show, my thoughts always swing back to it at this time of year. This is a glimpse into one of my favourite gardens from a few years ago: The Arthritis Research UK Garden, designed by Chris Beardshaw and Keith Chapman Landscapes. I […]

via It’s Chelsea Flower Show Time Again! — Susan Rushton

Susan Rushton reminds us that the Chelsea Flower Shows begins this week! I went for the first and only (so far …) time in 2014. It was such a highlight of all my travels!  I would dearly love to go again. In the meantime, I will have to content myself with this beautiful gallery of photos from the Telegraph. Enjoy!

Saturday Snippet: The Lost Gardens of Heligan

Mud Maid sculpture, at the Lost Gardens of Heligan, Cornwall, England

I haven’t posted here in a while because I have been traveling in the UK with my family. We visited many beautiful gardens, but one of my favorites was The Lost Gardens of Heligan.

Heligan is an old estate that once had hundreds of acres of formal, informal and tropical gardens, maintained by a staff of twenty-two. After World War I, when many of the workers did not return from the war, the estate slowly declined. The gardens were abandoned by the 1970s, while the main house was sold and divided into private apartments.

In 1990, a man named Tim Smit (who later created the Eden Project) was shown the property by one of its owners, a descendant of the Tremayne family that had owned Heligan for 400 years. The property was held in a trust for him and his sister. They hacked their way through brambles and old hedges to find the remaining original garden structures and landscaping. The work they did over decades to restore the gardens, install sculptures and make Heligan a unique destination for visitors is described in Tim Smit’s book, The Lost Gardens of Heligan. This week’s Saturday Snippet is taken from that book:

We had cut our way through dense clumps of invasive bamboo, drawn towards a perfectly formed palm that stood sentinel at the entrance to what was obviously a walled garden. John Nelson and I were on another of our explorations, venturing deeper into the gardens each time. Today we were excited; somehow we knew it was going to be a special day. You can feel these things.

Once inside, we paused for a moment. There was a sense that we were trespassing, that we had come upon a secret shrine. In the gloaming we could see dozens of trees growing thickly together, woven into a solid mass by an extremely vigorous climbing plant that covered everything like a furry blanket.  We had never seen anything like this before. Under the trees we could make out shapes at once familiar and other-worldly. This was clearly the area of the garden where the real work had taken place.

Garden shed and vintage garden tools at The Lost Gardens of Heligan, Cornwall, England
Garden Shed at The Lost Gardens of Heligan

Saturday Snippet: Garden Travel

Book about Garden Tourism by Richard W. Benfield

I don’t own the book pictured but I plan to engage in a lot of “garden tourism” soon. We will be traveling to Devon, Cornwall and Ireland this summer! I am so excited to see these beautiful parts of the world for the first time.  We will actually start in Glastonbury then work our way down the coast counterclockwise, ending up near Torquay for a family wedding. What gardens in the Southwest of England are not to be missed, in your opinion?

After the wedding, we will go to Northern Ireland and Dublin for a few days. I am excited to see the Giants’ Causeway and Trinity College, which my grandmother attended briefly many years ago. I know there will be many beautiful gardens to see in Ireland — which would you recommend? Thanks!

A Different Muguet Marathon

Lily of the valley, or convallaria majalis, "Bordeaux".

I spent the whole month of May posting about lily of the valley-based fragrances on my other blog, Serenity Now, in a series I called “May Muguet Marathon.” While I was doing that and reading a lot online about lilies of the valley, I came across a variety I have long wanted to try in my own garden, Convallaria majalis Bordeaux.”  It was on sale, so of course I bought 40 pips! My teenaged son helped me create a new planting bed for them by spreading many cubic feet of mushroom compost on top of the clayish soil between several old azaleas and the base of our house’s front terrace, a partly shaded area that is well-watered by our in-ground sprinkler system. He turned it in for me; I hope this will provide a suitable habitat! Lilies of the valley do not become invasive here in the South as they do further north; in fact, sometimes they struggle. Fingers crossed that “Bordeaux” finds a happy home here!

I also bought some pips of Convallaria majalis “Prolificans”, which many sellers describe as “double-flowered”, but it is not a true double flower, as can be seen in this photo:

Convallaria majalis Prolificans
Convallaria majalis “Prolificans”; photo from http://www.dobies.co.uk.

Rather, it has clusters of tiny, single flowers that dangle together from the main stalk, creating the look of double flowers. The true double-flowered lily of the valley is “Flore Pleno”:

Close up of double-flowered lily of the valley blossoms, Convallaria majalis "Flore Pleno."
Convallaria majalis “Flore Pleno”; photo from http://www.rowdengardens.com

I hope my new lilies of the valley find themselves happy in their new home and spread profusely! I would welcome what plant-hunter Reginald Farrer described as “the worst of all delicious weeds when it thrives.”