Today’s assignment: describe where I write. I like to write in any of the rooms that look out over my garden. That could be the sunroom, on the main level of our house, or the master bedroom upstairs, or a small study off the bedroom. All have walls that are almost entirely windowed, to let in as much light as possible. The master bedroom and study also each have a built-in window seat that runs almost the whole length of that wall, and under them are built-in bookshelves where I keep many of my hundreds of gardening books (some of which I quote in my “Saturday Snippets” on this blog). Our house is built on a slope, so the sunroom actually sits a full story above the garden, which gives a wonderful view over the flowerbeds and shrubs, and creates the impression of being in a treehouse among the other trees. The bedroom and study are yet another story higher. Our lot is not large, but it is deep and the plantings are mature, so the tall trees around the perimeter make it seem larger than it is and conceal surrounding homes from view.
Right now the foliage is changing color and I am looking out at a tapestry of green, red, orange, yellow and brown. It looks much as it did when we brought our first baby home from the hospital in early November, when I spent days with her in my arms, nursing her and looking out at the changing leaves. This is the time of year when we look forward to holidays and start to plan their celebration — a specially joyous activity once we had children. Perhaps because of this, as well as all the planting I normally do in autumn — especially spring bulbs — I associate fall with hopeful new beginnings instead of decline.
Of those rooms, my favorite in which to write is the sunroom, as it is uncluttered and I don’t get distracted by looking around and thinking of the household chores I should be doing instead of writing. It is also close to the rooms where my children do their homework, so we can be companionable in our separate pursuits.
Photo: Pinterest. Not my own windowseat, but very similar!
A wonderful book by veteran gardener and garden writer Ann Lovejoy, whose books on perennials and mixed borders are among my very favorites, Fragrance in Bloom sums up this season very well:
For gardeners, fall is less an ending than the beginning of another great cycle of work and rest and fulfillment. In fall, we plant the bulbs that will illuminate the spring yet unborn. In fall, we dig and divide and recombine our plants into fresh combinations to enjoy next summer. In fall, we commit new plants to the ground, giving trees, shrubs and perennials a chance to make strong root growth before winter. In fall, we can relax and let our plants ripen into maturity before they sleep. Autumn is also glorious in its own right. As the night air cools, leaves catch fire, the tired greens igniting to lava reds, ember oranges, and smoldering copper. As the slanting daylight lengthens, it gilds the garden with a soft haze. Numinous and transcendent, the autumn light turns mess into magic. When we can appreciate that the slumping, seed-spangled demise of summer’s magnificence is truly magnificent in itself, it becomes easier to stop being so concerned about grooming away every browning leaf. Instead, we can relax and simply revel in autumn’s richness.
I’ve changed my header image to reflect the current season, which seems appropriate for a blog focused on gardening and plants! What do you think? This lovely photo is an autumn view from the rose garden at Dumbarton Oaks.
One of the blogs I follow is Walter Pall’s Bonsai Adventures. Walter Pall is one of the world’s greatest bonsai masters. I particularly admire his work because he works with so many deciduous trees, including my favorites, Japanese maples, but he also works with many European trees, such as European beech.
Today’s Snippet is a reblog of the latest correspondence between Walter Pall and Arthur Jura of the North Carolina Arboretum, home to a magnificent bonsai collection and the annual Carolina Bonsai Expo, where Mr. Pall was recently the featured bonsai artist and lecturer. The letters are a tour de force of bonsai explication.
This Saturday Snippet is not from one of my collection of gardening books; it comes from The New York Times and an article called “Our Vanishing Flowers.” Those of us who love flowering plants should pay attention.
Ours is one of the most colorful relationships of history: We need flowers for our very survival, and in turn flowers — the plants that exist as crop cultivars or horticultural cut flowers or potted beauties — rely on us to reproduce and spread. But all is not well in this storied partnership: We who behold or nurture flowers are condemning their wild relatives to extinction at an alarming rate, and the world is quickly becoming a lesser place without them.
The author of this article, Stephen L. Buchmann, is a professor of entomology and evolutionary biology who has written a book called The Reason for Flowers. Sounds like one I will want to add to my collection.
I love Barbara Damrosch’s book The Garden Primer. It may have been the very first gardening book I got as an adult, with my own small patch of earth to cultivate, trying to remember the lessons my parents had taught me when I helped out with their gardening tasks. One of my favorite quotes: “Good gardening is very simple, really. You just have to learn to think like a plant.” Given that fall is the best planting season for most plants here in Zone 7, this week’s Saturday Snippet is about giving plants a good start:
If you are a Freudian you believe that birth traumas and subsequent experiences in people’s early lives can mark them for life. If you are a non-Freudian you consider this hogwash, holding that everyone is born with a certain personality, and beyond that your life is what you make of it.
I’m not entirely sure which theory is true where humans are concerned, but with plants I’m a Freudian all the way. Yes, a rhododendron is born a rhododendron and will always curl up its leaves self-protectively on cold winter days, only to become an extroverted mound of bright-flowered joy when it gets sufficiently warm in spring. But how large that mound is, and how glorious its display, depends on you, its parent, who can start it off by cramming its little roots into a stingy hole filled with meager soil, or give it a wonderful environment rich in love, care and compost.
Though I do not myself have a Japanese garden, I love them and I have a newly planted grove of Japanese maples. In anticipation of their fall foliage soon, here is an excerpt from The Art of Japanese Gardens: Designing and Making Your Own Peaceful Space, by Herb Gustafson.
The traditional Japanese garden brings to the viewer a vast array of symbolic representations…. The Japanese “niwa” is special because of its double meaning as both “garden” and “place.” It is not merely an artistic arrangement of rocks, trees and water. The very shape of these elements cries out for recognition on a higher plane. We see the combinings of the primitive earthly elements: the air above and the water below. The earth is represented by the skeletal structure of stones protected by the integument of topsoil. Our origin in fire is seen as beacons to our future placed in the stone lanterns to guide us among the “rati”, or path. Our gardens can become a profound representation of the universe as a whole.
After a weekend visit to my elderly mother, I have been thinking about how much she and my late father taught me about gardening. He loved to grow vegetables, but also lots of spring and summer bulbs. She preferred annual flowers and flower arranging, which she did as a volunteer at our church for many years. Like my father, I love spring bulbs and have been susceptible to growing “the $64 tomato”. Like my mother, I love bright flowers and the kinds of roses and perennials that make for beautiful arrangements.
A distinguished Atlanta-based journalist, the late Lee May, wrote a memoir several years ago called “In My Father’s Garden.” It is a memoir of his life, his career, his family and his gardens, starting with the childhood garden at his father’s home. My mother gave me a signed copy of the book when she heard him speak on a book tour; his note says: “Welcome to my garden! Enjoy!”
From his memoir:
Everyone’s garden is magical. Each has the power to energize you when you think you have no energy left, to calm jangled nerves and to offset a bad-karma day. And each garden has unique properties, some of which are known only to the person who lives with it, some of which are apparent to everyone. When someone shares a garden with you, invites you in, it becomes more yours each time you go there. With each visit, it becomes more familiar, like a house you know, or a person.
You can read more about Lee’s father and how their shared love of gardening brought reconciliation after decades apart here: Lee May’s Gardening Life. What unique properties does your own garden have, known only to you?
Recently I have been blogging about fragrance on my other blog, Serenity Now. My most recent “Fragrance Friday” was about ginger lilies, so for today’s snippet, I thought I would share a passage from a favorite small gardening book: Fragrant Flowers of the South, by Eve Miranda. In addition to the helpful information it contains for gardeners in Zones 7-11, it is illustrated not only with photographs but also some lovely watercolors of individual flowers.
The fragrance of the South is as much a part of its heritage as the stately antebellum homes and the mystic legends of the bayou. It’s the wild azaleas sweetening the swamps and hammocks; it’s the Cherokee rose entwining itself along an ancient, weather-worn, split-rail fence; it’s the cool evergreen majestic magnolias, dusting the air with heady perfume from their pristine white flowers. The special fragrances of Southern gardens are gifts that we Southerners share with the rest of the world, filling their memories of their visits to the South with the fragrant treasures we so often take for granted.
Of course when we decide to fill our homes and gardens with fragrant plants, we know that their perfume never totally belongs to the one who plants and tends them. For plants know no private bower, no property lines, but share their wealth from room to room, indoors; and outdoors, their odor jumps over hedges and walled fences, glides down sidewalks and slips into another’s window.