"When her father, Gerlof, rang one Monday evening in October, for the first time in almost a year, he made Julia think of bones, washed up onto a stony shore.
Bones, white as mother-of-pearl, polished by the waves, almost luminous among the gray pebbles at the water's edge.
Fragments of bone.
Julia didn't know if they were actually there on the shore, but she had waited to see them for over twenty years."
— "Echoes From the Dead"
My reading year has started well. Modeled on Becky's blog: "A Book A Week," I've managed to read my quota. And if I concentrate on books read — rather than the weather — then February is proving to be a stellar month.
HE SAID: On Friday June 6, 1997 Jon, the landscape architect we had hired to help us, arrived early with a gas-driven sod cutter. It didn't take him long to slice the area of grass I had marked into long strips. We forked the sod into wheelbarrows and piled it in the south-east corner of the yard to compost in a long crescent-shaped mound.
Fritz Haeg has spent the last ten years "obsessively gardening," as he phrases it. All that time planning, planting, growing, harvesting — GARDENING — has resulted in a number of revelations. Though gardening is central to them, they are not about the specifics of the subject. Haeg's revelations are more philosophical and revolutionary. Gardening is "a complicated metaphor about what it means to be human," he emphasized at last week's Symposium on "Incredible, Edible Gardens" at Madison's Olbrich Botanical Gardens.
FULL DISCLOSURE: These are not pictures my compost. That's a subject for another post.
The snowstorm that was supposed to hit us mid-week pretty much fizzled. So I didn't pay much attention Friday when a friend e-mailed to cancel our planned museum meet-up this afternoon. She was probably a lot less surprised than I was when I looked out the window this morning.
Not only was it snowing heavily, there was quite a lot on the ground already. The deck, the stone walls and the green spots that had appeared around the base of various trees and shrubs in the garden during the recent thaw were all under a blanket of snow again.
But there's nothing more lovely than a snowy day when you don't have to work. Even better, when you don't have to leave the house for any reason. We had everything on hand we could possibly need. We'd hit the library to pick-up some DVDs yesterday. And stopped at the bookstore to use our 40% off coupon on a new book on Japanese gardens (!). The fridge and freezer were full.
We loafed and lazed and looked at the views out every window. It was an almost perfect day — until we realized there was one reason we had to go out.
I lot of what I wear in the garden is tried and true and old. My favorites are from Smith & Hawken, when there was both a Smith and a Hawken at the helm of that company. I requested my first catalog in 1981 after seeing a tiny ad in the back of the New Yorker magazine.
I bought both the gardener's smock and original garden pants depicted in this Smith & Hawken catalog when they sold more items that were functional instead of garden tchotchkes. I'm still wearing both items quite a few years later.
I'm dreaming of Valerie Finnis. No, not the delicately pale blue Muscari that bears her name and is planted in my spring garden. I mean Valerie Finnis, the photographer. It's because of Finnis that I started gardening in a rather confused fashion. I got the wrong idea about garden fashions — what gardeners wear to work in the garden — after seeing some of her portraits in old books and magazines.
In the early 1950s Finnis, an expert in Alpine plants, acquired her first camera, becoming one of the first women to specialize in photographing plants and gardeners in their domains. She never took more than one exposure of each subject because she considered film too expensive to waste. Finnis made portraits of dozens of gardeners who were both accomplished and quirky — in and out of the garden.
I might consider Rhoda, Lady Birley (above), suitably dressed for the garden if I couldn't see her feet. Sorry, those pretty little party shoes she's wearing are not only silly looking but downright dangerous when you're holding a pair of pruners the size of the ones Rhoda's clutching. But her scarf — or whatever's around her neck — is a perfect color match to her garden blooms.
Finnis captured both Nancy Lancaster (below) and Rhoda, Lady Birley (above), in the garden wearing outrageous hats — something dear to Finnis' own heart. Both of those women were drama queens so I should have guessed they were dressed for the camera and not the garden. But, at the time, I didn't know any real gardeners, so I couldn't be sure if they actually gardened wearing such strange and rather lovely attire. These photos are the reason why I have more garden hats than any other item of garden gear.
Nancy Lancaster well-covered here in the midst of a rosebush. Though the hat looks used and useful, it's still a pretty outrageous coverup!
This hatless portrait (above) of Nancy Lancaster, doyenne of English country house style, is on the cover of Valerie Finnis' book, "Garden People." Lancaster's sporting a scarf and a hollyhock in "buttah yellow," the color of her famous — and much imitated — salon. I'm still not sure about her outfit; that jacket looks too nice to be so close to a hose!
There seem to be a limited number of photos of Vita Sackville-West in her garden at Sissinghurst Castle. I've seen one where she's beginning to dig the border in the southwest corner of the Tower lawn — by hand. Of course, it's a ludicrous image when one considers the size of this garden. But what really makes it laughable is that Vita is wearing a skirt!
Most images show her wearing jodhpurs (below) that look more suited to the stables than the garden, along with knee-high lace-up boots. The whole get-up always looks highly uncomfortable to me.
Vita Sackville-West (left) examines an urn at the base of the Tower at Sissinghurst Castle. Her garden assistants — Pamela Schwerdt (center) and Sibylle Kreutzberger — are dressed like Vita in jodhpurs but with rubber boots. The picture below shows the pair — who eventually became joint Head Gardeners at Sissinghurst — in more modern and comfortable long pants. But the two women are wielding wooden wheelbarrows, albeit with rubber wheels! Still, I might put up with a fair amount of discomfort if I could work somewhere as beautiful as Sissinghurst!
I love the image Finnis captured of Mr. and Mrs. Gerard Parker, a pair of snowdrop enthusiasts (below). He looks like he just stepped off the train, briefcase in hand, and she's perhaps coming home from a committee meeting. They meet — by chance or choice? — in the garden.
Of course, I like the photo because it reminds me so much of myself. I have a tendency to pull into the driveway, get out of the car and get lost in the garden — all before I've opened the front door, checked for mail or greeted my spouse. This picture suggests I'm not a bad person, just an addicted gardener. An issue for my husband, but clearly not for the Brits!
Mr. and Mrs. Gerard Parker get up close and personal with their snowdrops.
At age 46, Finnis' married another avid gardener, Sir David Scott, then age 82. An hour after the church ceremony, the newlyweds were out in the garden weeding together. If that's not a match made in gardening heaven, I don't know what is. I don't believe this is the wedding day photo, but clearly they're dressed for work here: though gloveless, their heads are nattily covered.
TOMORROW: What gardeners really wear.
One of the last — and biggest — jobs was taking out a 50-year-old arborvitae tree (probably Thuja plicata) at the corner of the house. It had to go to make a path for the track hoe to get into our back yard.
HE SAID: After estimating the height of the tree (about 50 feet), and measuring the distance between our house and our neighbor's (25 feet), I realized I had a bit of a problem. The solution I came up with, being decended from two families of lumberjacks, was to climb the tree and "top" each trunk. Being a clever husband I waited until Linda was away to tackle the job.
She came home to find me with one foot on the roof of the house and one on a limb of the tree, sawing with both hands. Her question to me was: "Do you want me to call an ambulance now, or wait until you fall?"
I left six feet of trunk to act as a lever to pull the root ball out of the ground. I had a thirty foot heavy duty chain and a sturdy Ford F-350 pick-up truck. I had dug an eighteen inch deep trench in a six foot diameter circle around the base of the tree, cutting all the roots that I found. I drew the chain up taught, revved the engine, and slowly let the clutch out. The truck drove forward just far enough to lift the back end completely off the ground! The tree didn't budge.
After digging the trench deeper, cutting more roots, and soaking the ground around the the arborvitae overnight I finally managed to pull the thing out onto the driveway and down to the curb. A week later a city supervisor — clipboard in hand — came to my door and asked what I had planed for the stump and root ball. I played the honesty card, fell on his mercy and said I didn't have a clue. He finally agreed to have a city truck and crew pick it up if I could reduce it to a size their mechanical claws could handle.
HE SAID: Our recent February (partial) thaw overcame my winter lethargy and got me outdoors and into the yard for the first time since early December. With the temperature hovering around freezing, I grabbed the camera and went to see what there was to see.
There's something sad and pathetic about this caged dwarf Ginkgo, not unlike how I've viewed myself these past few weeks. We're not sure if the rabbits relish them, but we don't want to chance it.
The seed heads of star fruit (Penthorum seloides), a marginal water plant, hold their color well in the winter. It looks especially good here against the dark basalt rock — an angle I usually don't see unless I'm in the pond wearing waders.
For some reason I respond positively to pairs of things. I don't know why. In this case I'm sure there is a bit of anthropomorphising going on.
I was smitten with the range of color in these delicate Japanese maple leaves set against the snow.
Having been taught painting at the end of the Abstract Expressionist era, I can't resist the ever changing patterns of nature. I'll take an image like this over a dramatic sunset or bright perenial bed anytime.
Acer 'White Tigress' (snakebark maple) is a tree with georgeous bark. Even though this one is currently quite small, its visual impact is very strong.
The bark of a river birch has to be among the most dramatic of any tree. It's nearly impossible to take a bad picture of these beauties.
The first bright color of spring in our yard is invariably man-made.
I just don't understand why people feel compelled to throw their trash out the car window into someone else's yard. When we first moved to this neighborhood I thought maybe we were a target, but all the neighbors complain of the same thing.
Nevertheless, there are signs of better things to come.
It's always amazing to me how some plants retain their color and freshness despite the harshness of winter. This Autumn Fern looks ready to spring back to its summer glory as soon as the snow releases it.
And lastly, a pair of Epimedium leaves hug a rock for warmth until the final thaw arrives — and with it, Spring.