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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A Happy Ending, in the Garden

I came late to gardening, only really getting started in the last dozen years or so.

There was no real family tradition of growing flowers at my house or, if there was one, I was oblivious.

My husband and I have learned mostly by trial and error . . . lots of trials, lots and lots of errors. But we had some successes and were pleased.

Then, five years ago, our area was hit by flooding. The lake we live on reached record-high water levels and stayed there for 6 weeks. (As you know, you can click on the small photos to see more detail)

Our lawns and gardens were covered in water and sludge for weeks, and everything died.

Everything died.

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We had a tabula rasa. A nasty, brown blank slate.

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So, you will understand the awe I feel now, all spring and summer, when beauty happens here. I am dumbstruck that we have accomplished so much, with so little knowledge but hard work and patience.

The flowers amaze me, enthrall me.

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This pergola stands where the dirt was in the previous photo. It’s now blanketed in honeysuckle and wisteria.

In spite of all this beauty, only one part of the garden matters to some people.

We grow catnip under the protective cover of staked wire baskets so “some people” won’t rip it out by the roots and eviscerate the little plants.

They get drunk on catnip, I find my intoxication elsewhere.

Don’t Hate Her Because She’s Beautiful

IMG_7805Isn’t she lovely? She and her sister blooms stop me in my tracks every day, in sheer admiration.

They look so out of place, these lush tropical-looking beauties. How does something this extravagant, this opulent, this voluptuous dare grow in Zone 4, in upstate New York, a few miles from Canada?

I don’t even remember where the plant came from but my guess is that my husband brought it home from the deep-discount rack at the big box hardware and garden center. He regularly brings home nearly-dead plants—waterlogged marigolds, root-bound daisies, dry-as-dust coleuses. Some we save, some are already dead and just don’t know it yet.

The hibiscus lived! It bloomed last summer and then looked really, really dead after our long, nasty, icy winter.

But like a colorful, vibrant phoenix, rising from ice instead of ashes, it came back.

I have to admit, as pretty as they are, I’m not entirely comfortable with the hibiscus blooms.

They’re so . . . showy.IMG_7745

They make me think of those girls and women I’ve known who love attention and love to show off their amazing looks. The ones who wear the low-cut tops over their fabulous figures and lots of make-up. They pluck their eyebrows all the time, and do their nails, and always look perfectly turned out for every occasion. They’re even pretty when they cry. I’ve always been suspicious (and envious!) of that.

I feel more comfortable with the geraniums and hostas in my little garden. Like me, they’re more traditional and homey. The hostas, in particular, are happy in the shade and don’t really need people focusing too much attention on them. That’s how I feel, too. I am uncomfortable with bright colors and with looking like I’m trying too hard.

I can relate to the hostas!

The only thing that reassures me about the flashy hibiscus is how short-lived its gaudy blooms are. One day, they’re all done up in total perfection—seductive and impossible to ignore. But the next day, each bloom has drooped and faded. Their petals look like a skirt that’s lost its starch or maybe a bouffant hair-do that’s come undone. Maybe they simply had too much fun on their one-day-long coming-out party and have a wicked, final hangover.

I tell myself that we, the hostas and I, hold up better in the long term. We’re not drop-dead gorgeous but we are sturdy and constant and slow to fade. The garden needs us.

In fact, I realize, my garden is big enough for, and benefits from, all of us—the stately and the understated, the hot and the cool, the extroverts and the introverts. I’ve also learned, across the years, that the prettiest can be the pleasantest, the flashy exterior can contain an interior of integrity and strength. After all, the hibiscus plant can withstand temperatures well below freezing and come back strong, even if its blooms don’t last for long.

So, I’m rethinking my anti-hibiscus prejudices and committing myself to a more open-minded garden policy. Bring on the showy and flashy, those that live fast and fade soon. We welcome you and your vibrancy to our understated world.

We balance, and complete, each other.IMG_7744

Dances of Delight

2007 sunsets-72I almost always have one song or another running through my head. Often it’s something silly and annoying, like Roger Miller’s “England Swings Like a Pendulum Do” or “Waltzing with Bears,” which was apparently written by Dr. Seuss. He should’ve known better.

But for the last few days, as spring has sprung in the North Country of upstate New York, the song in my head has been “When I’m Gone,” by folksinger Phil Ochs. Not a silly or annoying song at all, but one that sets forth a philosophy I wish I could live up to. (You can hear the song by going to the link. I admit I almost never click on links in blogs but I think you’ll really like the song!)

In the song, Ochs lists the things he won’t be able to do anymore “when I’m gone” and concludes, “So, I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here.” He itemizes the things we take for granted and put off and say we want to do, but shy away from, and reminds us that our time here is not limitless.

I’ve always loved and been moved by this song but it’s in my head right now because the last few days have seemed so perfect to me. These days have made me think constantly of a phrase Ochs uses in the song–“dances of delight.”

I’ve been in the sunshine, raking last fall’s leftover leaves, and finding tender-green new growth beneath. I can recognize that these will be peonies and those will be heuchera, when they’ve had a few weeks to grow.

I’ve been on my knees weeding, feeling muscles glow and tell me that no, I did not stay fit over the winter, but I can be soon.

On my whim, I’ve moved from yard work to old linens, and spent time reclaiming them from years of neglect in storage, returning them to beauty, and finding new homes for them.

When the spirit moves, I’ve wandered to my weaving, to wind warp for a gift and to help my husband figure out a new-to-us loom where he’ll make something beautiful out of ordinary string.

I‘ve stopped by here and visited with you. I’ve shared a meal with dear friends. I’ve watched my cats nap in the sunshine and dive headfirst into piles of leaves, older cats made young again by springtime. I’ve heard geese honk on a lake of lapping water (not ice!), watched the weeping willows turn green-gold as they bud, and smelled the sun on pine needles.

These days are much of a muchness. Nothing wild or crazy or exotic or thrilling.

But, these are my dances of delight. Full of anticipation and promise, hard work, productive and varied, but unpressured and mellow.

I’m very aware that this won’t last forever. Things change. Complications arise. Nothing gold can stay. But, right now, it all seems so delightful.

I won’t be able to dance these delights when I’m gone, so I guess I better do it while I’m here. What delights are you dancing?


Phil Ochs, When I’m Gone, 1966 lyrics

There’s no place in this world where I’ll belong when I’m gone
And I won’t know the right from the wrong when I’m gone
And you won’t find me singin’ on this song when I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here

And I won’t feel the flowing of the time when I’m gone
All the pleasures of love will not be mine when I’m gone
My pen won’t pour out a lyric line when I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here

And I won’t breathe the bracing air when I’m gone
And I can’t even worry ’bout my cares when I’m gone
Won’t be asked to do my share when I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here

And I won’t be running from the rain when I’m gone
And I can’t even suffer from the pain when I’m gone
Can’t say who’s to praise and who’s to blame when I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here

Won’t see the golden of the sun when I’m gone
And the evenings and the mornings will be one when I’m gone
Can’t be singing louder than the guns when I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here

All my days won’t be dances of delight when I’m gone
And the sands will be shifting from my sight when I’m gone
Can’t add my name into the fight while I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here

And I won’t be laughing at the lies when I’m gone
And I can’t question how or when or why when I’m gone
Can’t live proud enough to die when I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here.

To Market, To Market . . . Jean-Talon in Montreal

IMG_9005Where summers are short, we must celebrate them intensely!

Montreal knows this, and her people glory in markets and street life, exploding with fresh flavors and colors. I’ve taken you along, in an earlier post, to Atwater Market. Today, we visit Marche Jean-Talon, with a stop in Vieux Montreal.

Whatever season currently prevails where you live, immerse yourself for a few moments in summer!