Practicing My Aitches

When Eliza Doolittle, the Fair Lady herself, needed to practice her aitches, Professor Higgins gave her the exercise, “In Hertford, Hereford, and Hampshire, hurricanes hardly happen.”

When I need to practice my aitches, I wander my garden. My litany goes something this:

With hydrangea, hollyhocks, and hostas, hibiscus and honeysuckle happen (and heuchera, tooooo).

How did we end up with so many plants that start with the letter “H”? I only have one A (astilbe), two Bs (begonia and bee balm), and 3 Cs (coneflower, catnip, and chokecherry). 

But I have 6 aitches (or Hs, or even haitches, if you prefer). We used to have a seventh until the hops grew out of control and had to go.

These plants share almost nothing, in spite of starting with an aitch–it seems that letter of the alphabet provides plants for every occasion.

The honeysuckle vines grow up, up, up. They cover the pergola and appeal to ‘ummingbirds.

The heuchera, often called coral bells, come in different colors. It’s all about the foliage.

The hostas, in seemingly infinite variety, glow from the shady spots. They grow large and small, and cover the Pantone range of greens.

The hibiscus is almost sexual in its showiness. It has a high need for attention with blooms the size of a dinner plate.

The hollyhocks are old-fashioned and seem very feminine to me–tall spikes with ruffled skirts in unpredictable colors–some deep and saturated, some so subtle.

And the beloved hydrangeas. I think they are sort of out of favor right now among hip gardeners but I’ve never claimed to be hip. We have huge shrubs of different cultivars, as well as an oak leaf hydrangea, a climbing hydrangea vine, and a tree standard. I love them all.

I get confused about my H-plants on a regular basis. I want to refer to the one that grows on the pergola and I say hollyhock or pause a long time before I can come up with honeysuckle. 

Or I just ask my husband to water the one that starts with an aitch and he says, “That’s ‘ardly ‘elpful.”

Does your garden have a preponderance of plants that begin with an aitch? Or a P, per’aps?

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Grousing in the Garden

I didn’t want to write this post. Really, I didn’t. 

I’ve resisted as long as I could and they’ve just worn me down with their whining and nagging and moaning.

My flowers are furious; They look pretty and dainty and harmless . . . don’t be fooled. They are relentless. 

They demand equal time! They point out that everybody else’s flowers have been featured on the internet, that they are every bit as attractive, and, dammit, they want their moment in the spotlight. 

The irises are irate.

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The viburnum are threatening violence.

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The lilies of the valley lament and lament and lament. All those tiny little voices, lamenting. Oy.

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The hostas are downright hostile.

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Catnip is caterwauling, under its protective armor to keep the cats from nipping it down to nothingness.

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Peonies are pouting, again. They’re not at their best yet but they remember a successful protest from years ago, and they are emboldened.

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So, my apologies for a post full of familiar flowers. I don’t even know all their names and it occurs to me that some may be weeds. I simply don’t care anymore. I just want them to stop their belly aching!

 And please, whatever you do, don’t tell them they’re pretty! 

Post Script to Ice Out

I chortled and cheered yesterday about the ice leaving our bay on Lake Champlain.

I marveled at the movement of the water.

And my, how that water moved, driven by high winds, throwing wave upon wave to our seawall.

We had ice out . . . but also lots of ice ON!

All our red flower pots, the small fire pit, the limbs I’ve been clearing from the lawn, and every blade of grass on the lawn . . . all glowing, encased in ice.

Welcome to spring in the North Country of upstate New York . . . .

Ice Out!

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Snowdrops and daffodils. Robins and geese. Lambs and maple sap running and yellow-green buds on the weeping willow.

All lovely signs of spring.

Of all the signs that winter is over, though, one makes me happiest, makes my heart soar and loosens the tensions in my upper back.

And that is when the ice goes out of our bay. Finally. It is not the first sign of spring, by any means, but it is, for me, the most welcome.

In the late autumn, it seems the ice comes in quickly. One day the water will be slushy and, seemingly the next day, ice fishers will be out drilling holes and catching perch.

But once it’s formed that ice stays and stays . . . and stays.

The larger sections of Lake Champlain, areas known around here as the “broad lake,” might stay open all winter. But our little bay always freezes and for months we miss the sounds of water and the sight of water birds and any sign of movement.

This year, the ice held on in Monty’s Bay until yesterday.

In the morning, solid ice covered the entire bay.

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But the temperatures reached 50F, we’d had a good bit of rain, and the winds were gusting to 50 miles an hour, from just the right direction.

At 4 in the afternoon, I could see a dark band across the way—and movement.

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The band grew and widened, and water flowed near our seawall.

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By 7, three hours after I saw the first band, the ice was almost completely gone—big floes moving and breaking up.

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I could see birds wheeling above the open water and waves forming and movement. That’s the difference—there’s movement, where there had been none for months.

It will be a good while before we see kingfishers or sailboats or children playing in these waters. But that isn’t the point.

The point is, it’s official—spring is here!

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One day–what a difference!!

It’s A Pity . . .

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I pity the poor Southerner. I pity all those to whom spring comes early.

It’s March. They’re already sweaty, sweltering, with a sheen of oil on their skin. Here, the air is crisp and refreshing, invigorating even.

They have so little time to prepare for bikini season, it’s already upon them. Here, we have months . . . possibly years.

The bright sun means they have to wear sunglasses, and hide the windows of their souls. Here, our eyes are available to others and our pupils are widely, fetchingly dilated, to let in as much gray light as possible.

There, the bright, riotous colors of flowers are harsh and inescapable. Here, the white and shades of gray are soothing and undemanding. They settle for snowdrops while we enjoy snow drops.

Their sleep is rudely disrupted by the sound of raucous birds. All is silent here.

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The pollen in the air means their eyes itch and theirs noses run. Here, we breathe free.

They toil in yard and garden, while we luxuriate with needle, thread, book, and brandy, in front of a roaring fire.

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Their days are placid, boring, without excitement. Here, we await, with shortened breath and pounding hearts, the arrival of the next drama with a Christian name—Quinn, Riley, Skylar. Toby . . . is that you on the horizon?

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They pay gym memberships and go looking for ways to exercise. Here, we get our exercise for free—shoveling snow, pushing cars from drifts, building snow families.

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They drive on clear roads, never learning survival tactics. Here, we have the satisfaction of knowing the gut wrenching, bowel-loosening feeling of competence that comes with pulling out of an icy skid just short of the ditch.

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They no longer enjoy know the sheer relief of hot chocolate in cold hands. The thrill of a snow day, listening to the radio and hearing your school’s name on the closure and cancellation list. The atavistic jolt of a fireplace that provides more than simple atmosphere.

No snow angels. No warm maple syrup straight from the boiler. No need for Irish fisherman knit sweaters and Bean boots and Yaktrax, while watching the St. Patrick’s Day parade..

Pity to all of you for whom spring came early . . . you’re missing so much.

The rest of us, this March, let us thank Providence that you and I are Northerners.