Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Squirrel Watching

Tulip Van Eijk

I  have just planted 90 pink Van Eijk tulips that I expect will flower sometime in April. Thirty of the bulbs face off on either side of the path that curves through the garden. Another thirty mingle with  eight purple alium behind the little pond to the left of the garage door; keeping a promise I made to myself last month. Or was it the month before. Or the month before that.

The garage, by the way, looks nothing like a garage. With its turquoise door flanked by tall, divided-light windows (which you cannot see from any distance in summer, hidden as they are by the mock orange on one side and the wisteria on the other). The one-story brick structure resembles a cottage. As one (particularly odd) visitor once asked, "Is that where your mother lives?" 

It is a pleasant spot to plant a stand of flowers.  

Sprinkled on top of the tulips are handfuls of crocus, a flower I don't particularly care for. It seems rather nervy to even call them flowers. These puny spots of color were inserted medicinally, as they appear early in the year, when the brain needs a spot of cheer, even one so pathetically meager as this.  

There are also eight pink hyacinth, which I rather actively dislike. They are so ... florid. So garish with their squat bodies and candy-colored, tightly-curled petals. Like a band of square-bodied old ladies with too-tight permanent waves. They smell rather nice, however; as long as there aren't too many of them, which can be sickening. I hid them behind the azalea so the scent will blow about sending a bit of sweetness into the air.  (Grape hyacinths, while rather pretty and also headily scented, require a certain amount of gymnastic ability--or at least the ability to bend over--to sniff. Unless they're planted on top of a wall, which I do not happen to have).
Flaming Purissimas

Planted closer to the house is a clutch of Flaming Purissimas tulips. These are said to be early bloomers, bearing white flowers tinged with green and pink and yellow. These should emerge in March, around the same time as the hyacinth and the few daffodils that always seem to survive even when I yank the lank and yellowing foliage after they bloom.

I am feeling extremely self-congratulatory about this project, not that I have any reason to be. The bulbs were among the last available at Home Depot and Costco, deliberation didn't take long.  And there was no calculating the perfect planting date -- the bulbs have been sitting on the basement steps for the past month, waiting for me to ready myself.  Motivated only by fear of a frost -- or at least a snap of bitter cold that will make the effort extremely unpleasant, I marched forth this morning clutching my shovel.

That the effort was as easy as it turned out to be also had nothing to do with any planning or foresight. Since most of the outdoor plants are tropicals that are brought in for the winter, there are clear swaths of ground to be dug for the bulbs. And 25+ years of turning and amending that soil for the summer (Ha! "Amending". That really sounds like I DO something). Anyway, the earth turns easily, the bulbs are plopped in and covered.

And the waiting for spring begins. Let's see how many bulbs survive the squirrels.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Dotty About Poppies

Adrian Higgins, in today's Washington Post writes:

"In northern gardens, poppies are the languid wildlings of summer, the stuff of picnics in the meadow and memorable afternoons. They can be tricked into a great show in the Washington garden, where they explode on the scene in May...They are part of an enormous late-spring bacchanalia that begins with clematis and peonies and embraces catmint, larkspur and the first of the roses and lavender..."

AEEIIIIIIIII! Doesn't that just make me scream and then wilt with desire! Imagine! "A bacchanalia" occurring in my garden!! Heady scents and mingled colors of roses and lavender, larkspur, peonies (hold the catnip), all bound by a tangle of clematis and punctuated with a papery ruffles of poppies!!! OH! That's a lot of exclamation points.

Sadly -- notice those dots after "May"? That sly abridgment of thought? The missing segment is this: " ...[they] linger for two or three weeks collectively and then shrivel in the face of the accumulating heat."

TWO WEEKS?! piffle. And from seed? A day, a minute, a second....the barest bristle of a sprout. I can't even get an already grown poppy, one that arrives from the garden center in a state of robust fecundity (clearly nurtured by a far greener thumb than mine and prepared for that bacchanal), to do more than sulk forlornly and promptly expire.  

There is a yard here on Capitol Hill, over by the Day School, across from the Park, that generally looks less than kempt, yet each spring puts on a magnificent display of poppies. They seem to self-seed-- spraying themselves about, each year more stupefying than the last.   

In the face of that garden it is extremely small sop that Higgens points out how tricky poppies are to grow. But sop it is.

Read him here:


Saturday, November 6, 2010

Blessed Event!

Once again neglect triumphs over (desultory stabs at) care! Like the triumphant once-a-decade or so blossoming of the pink hibiscus (now again quite busily green) the Christmas cactus is abruptly tipped with buds, great fat buds. Looking like a little flower show specimen it is.

It was a gift last year when I was suddenly near death and as quickly resurrected -- and how appropriate a resurrection gift this is!

However. I do not particularly care for Christmas cactus (cacti?). My mother used to have a windowsill lined with these vaguely unpleasant looking plants. They'd sit looking droopy and a bit evil most of the year and then bloom, though never at Christmas, which is when they're supposed to be in bloom. Which is why they're so named, for heaven's sake.

Sometime after the holiday they'd deign to bud and by Easter they'd be covered with pendulous and fleshy though less than impressive flowers. This would follow the considerably more impressive Valentine's Day reflowering of the poinsettias that she also insisted on holding over. The same sort of poinsettias that right-minded people dumped in the trash after the previous holiday season She'd nurse them along -- and they required considerable tsking and coaxing -- until they once again set blooms.

She was a fine plants-woman, my mother. Though perhaps because of her taste in plants, this was not appreciated by many. Astrid and Bud were exceptions. Astrid used to be married to Michael and lived in the bright, sunny, amply terraced apartment next door to my mother's on the upper east side of Manhattan. While Astrid ran off with Bud, moving around the corner to a spacious but dark one-bedroom, they all remained friends. This is how my mother came to be growing marijuana.

Which is a whole other story...

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