Winter’s Icy Grip

icy-day.jpgA week ago, both my garden and I were laid low by nature’s icy grip. Steady rains over several days and declining temperatures resulted in a rare late December ice storm.  My garden was spared the worst of the storm, which mostly laid waste to landscapes north of us.  I was not so fortunate.  I woke up a week ago Monday with a miserably bad cold.  How could something so ordinary be so utterly debilitating?

ice-storm.jpgFrozen is a word that routinely characterizes the winter landscape.  But ice that accumulates on plants in the landscape can result in terrible damage to life and limb.  Water is very heavy.  Water that is glued fast to small branches can break them.  Ice on evergreens can bring their boughs down to the ground.  An ice storm last March broke a major branch on one of my dogwoods.  That branch, with only a little wood and the bark on the bottom side still intact, bloomed normally, and had a full compliment of leaves all summer.  It is loaded with flower buds for the spring.  Every few hours I would check out the window to see if the weight of the ice would break that branch off altogether.  Obviously the will to live is a strong one; the branch survived the ice.

ice-storm.jpgAll that night and into the next morning, I could hear the sounds of branches crashing to the ground. I only hoped that none of them were in my yard.  I do prune my trees and shrubs regularly, in the hopes that they will successfully weather wind, snow and ice.  But our street trees are not kept up by the city forestry department.  All of the pruning to the trees is done, on an irregular basis -  and in a very messy way – by a stormy weather event.  Dead, diseased or damaged branches weighted by ice did break loose from the trees.  Nature can be benign, beautiful, and violently destructive.  If you are a gardener, you have seem all of the aforementioned.

iced-over.jpgThe ice glittered, even though the day was entirely overcast.  Fascinating and frightening accurately describes nature’s icy grip.

winter-container.jpgThe winter pots in the driveway were all the better for the ice.  The curly ting and white leptospermum bowed their branchy heads in a most graceful way.

winter-container.jpgOnly the icy weather could create this swooping shape from materials known for their stiff and inflexible habit.  Bowing to the force of nature creates all kinds of unexpected shapes in the landscape.  Trees whose mature shapes are dictated by a windswept or otherwise hostile environment are a marvel to behold.  The marvel of the common cold is that the day finally comes when that virus loosens its grip, and you feel you might be able to breathe, eat and sleep again.

winter container.jpgI am happy to report that the ice is melting.

 

Tuesday Opinion: Rhythm

Someday I will  plant a giant circle of deciduous trees.  Or a square. or a rectangle, or an irregularly shaped enclosure of trees.  Most of the trunks will be too close together.  There may be one entrance, which is also an exit.  There may be an entrance and a separate exit.  There may be one entrance, and several exits. There may be one entrance on axis, and other oblique entrances. No matter the shape, the canopies of the trees will create a tent.  Inside the tent, there will be a bench, or a collection of benches.  The garden on the outside of the tree tent will be inviting and friendly.  The inside of the tree tent will be plain.  Just grass, and a place to sit.  I would visit the tree tent every day, every season, year round.  Maybe very early, before work.  Maybe late in the day, after work.  Maybe more than twice a day.   Why would I want such a garden? A daily garden?  For the sake of rhythm.

Like most gardeners, I am tuned into my garden at specific times of the year.  The first signs of spring.  The spring trees blooming.  The planting of the spring-and the summer pots.  The roses coming on.  The late summer garden.  The fall, and finally the winter.  These moments are an intense experience.  The hellebores in full bloom make me feel dizzy, my focus is that intense.  Other times, I barely notice what is in front of my eyes.  I have this issue to attend to, or that.  The delphiniums may be sending up a strong second flush that I barely acknowledge.   Up and down-that would be me in the garden.  Miss topsy-turvy.  Would that I could be more consistent and less scattered.

On and off is not my favorite place to be.  A lengthy “on period” means I can establish a rhythm.  It is not so tough to imagine this.  In simple terms, practice makes perfect.  Those times when I am focused on the garden, day to day, my garden benefits.  The 2 months I spend planting summer pots-I am quite sure the last of those pots are the best.  Once I have gotten into a rhythm, there is flow.  I stop thinking about what to do, and just do.  Stating and stopping and starting up again in the garden shows.  A design may appear disjointed, or fragmented.  Or even worse, careless.

A regular rhythm is like a pulse, like a heart that beats regularly.  Repetition sets the stage for a rhythmic expression.  The big idea here-anything you attend to, or practice every day establishes a rhythm.  Once you have a rhythm going on, a beautiful expression is not far behind.

As for my tree tent-I imagine it as a place to recapture that sense of rhythm.  A place that can store momentum.  Of course the tree tent is an idea that could exist only in my imagination.  Maybe the real solution is to figure out how to keep the door to imagination propped open.  Today I have a large Christmas tree to decorate. It is a project I have not done before. I have assembled a collection of materials-they will be looking at me.  And my crew will be looking at me. I am sure I will be trying out different arrangements, stopping and starting, until that certain state of mind that I call rhythm gets switched on.

 

 

Sunday Opinion: The Leftovers

Thanksgiving dinner at our house always means lots of leftovers.  Buck’s style of cooking has its roots in his Texan background.  When he cooks, he cooks for the many.  That is his idea of hospitality-more than plenty to eat.  Though our dinner was limited to the two of us, he cooked a huge pan chock full of short ribs, a pot brimming with brussel sprouts, and an endless store of mashed potatoes and stuffing.  To accompany said potaoes and stuffing – gallons of gravy.  The cranberry relish would have been enough for 8, with several servings in reserve.  No matter all of this leftover food.  He had leftovers for breakfast and lunch on Friday.  Thanksgiving dinner for breakfast the day after?  He chowed down.  He persuaded me that the Thanksgiving dinner leftovers would provide a perfect day after dinner.  This holiday dinner fueled the both of us through Saturday.

I went along, although leftovers are not my favorite.  I rarely am faced with the second round of a dinner idea-he sees to that.  Buck would never dream of oatmeal or eggs or cereal for breakfast, though this menu would be my first choice.  Whatever we had left over from the previous night’s dinner is his breakfast of choice. I would not be interested in last night’s pork chop with a side of last night’s field peas first thing the following morning.  But I am interested that he eats our leftovers with gusto.  This means I don’t have to.  We have an arrangement regarding leftovers that works.  By this I mean, we do not throw food away.

Though I am not a big fan of leftover food, I have a tough time throwing away any leftover materials.  This may mean half bunches of eucalyptus, a few stems of curly willow, a glass garland with a broken bulb, a cracked pot, a feathered bird with a broken clip, a cattail wreath with a stain, an acorn stem that is missing some acorns.   I have an astonishing collection of those materials though perfect, have gone unloved.  Why do I keep them?  I like the challenge.

Years ago, I did weekly flower arrangements for a client.  She has a company which purchased cut flowers for events.  I would arrive on her doorstep every week, with boxes full of flowers waiting for me.  She did not choose them, nor did I.  But my job was to take those stems not of my choosing or hers, and make something of them that she would like.  There would be no rhyme or reason to the contents of the box.  Perhaps her supplier packaged up the weekly leftovers, and sent them along.  Perhaps whomever packed the boxes was not so focused on enabling an end result.  Did I call the office with a long list of complaints?  Absolutely not.  I loved the challenge of making much of a group of flowers that seemed to have no relationship whatsoever sing together.  Week after week, I did flower arrangements from the flowers sent to me.

My winter pots at home will be constructed from the leftovers at the shop.  Do I feel slighted?  Not in the least.  Any leftover material can be arranged in a beautiful way.  Creating something beautiful is not about the materials.  It is always about the imagination, the thought,  and the effort.  Those leftovers, the perennial stems still standing, the branches from the field down the street, the damaged picks, the browned hydrangea blooms, the leftover string, the broken bits from last year, the materials from the field next door, the fresh cuttings from the garden-materials you can use.  The most beautiful materials on the planet does not demand so much from you.  The leftovers ask for the best you have to give to them, and to yourself.

I like the idea that the leftovers available to me might spark my best work ever.  There is so much to be thankful for – including that client who was confident that I could make something of anything.

Sunday Opinion: Keeping America Beautiful

 

Trees-for-fall.jpg

Keep America Beautiful is an organization which has been devoted to promoting the idea that a clean environment is a beautiful and healthy environment since 1953.  The original group of business people and public figures had the idea to link the private and public sector in a campaign to stamp out littering.  If you are any where near me in age, you will remember the public service announcements in the 1970′s featuring Chief Iron Eyes Cody and the tagline “People start pollution.  People can stop it”.  The Ad Council of America considers it one of the most successful public service campaigns ever mounted. It had to have been fairly successful-I still remember it vividly, some 40 years after the fact.  I would sooner stuff my lunch trash in my own coat pocket than throw it on the ground.  Their role in recent years has been to focus on the merits of recycling.  Both technology and human ingenuity have helped to create ways to transform trash into products that can be reused.

downtown-Detroit.jpg

Why am I talking about litter?  We were downtown last week, decorating 50 planter boxes on Woodward Avenue that feature trees at the center.  As the aluminum fencing around each box is about 18 inches tall, I suggested decorating each tree truck with corn shocks, and other decor that suggested fall.  The result is a celebration of fall that can be seen from a car, or on foot.  So what does this have to do with litter?  The boxes themselves were littered.  Lots of litter.  I would guess that it takes an incredible amount of time and money to regularly clean them.  Though there’s no need to litter, it happens.

Woodweard-Avenue-Detroit.jpg While we were installing this fall display, a Detroit police officer pulled over to the curb near us, set off his siren, and turned on his lights. Yes, we were startled, and yes we watched.  The officer called out to a man on the side walk who had just thoughtlessly dumped his lunch trash and plastic bottle on the sidewalk to pick up his mess, and put it in the trash barrel not 10 feet away.  There was much discussion and lots of resistance, but the man finally picked up his mess and put it in the garbage can.  I admire that officer who treated littering and polluting as a crime against the environment.

Woodward-Avenue-planters.jpgThat officer let it be known loud and clear that he expects his city to be orderly, safe, friendly, busy, crime free-and clean. Pollution free-one trashy moment at a time. The incident made a big impression on me.  Obviously clean cities happen via groups of concerned people who bring their influence to bear.  Clean cities perhaps rely even more on those individuals who take the time and effort to protect the environment.  It also occurs to me that a clean and litter free city has much to do with a collective sense of ownership, and stewardship.  How can that pride of  ownership and stewardship be fostered?  One litter free block at a time.  One clean day at a time.  One proud person at a time.

downtown-Detroit.jpg

We were hired to make a statement about fall in the downtown Detroit area.  My thoughts regarding the design were as follows.  I wanted to celebrate those trees on Woodward Avenue that managed to grow in a thoroughly urbanized city.  I wanted to draw attention to the trees, and the planter boxes.  I wanted to make anyone who rode or walked down Woodward to be engaged by what we did.  I wanted to, for a brief moment, to draw attention to nature.  My hope was that attention would foster respect.

city-tree.jpgI may not get my wish-this go round. If you are a gardener, you understand that it can take a lot of time to develop a garden, or a landscape.  It can take more than a lifetime.  As for a litter free America, it may take many generations.  But I am happy to report that more people than not are informed and supportive of a clean, beautiful, and healthy America.  Gardeners have for generations been interested in a clean and beautiful environment.     Woodward-Avenue.jpg

Gardeners have homes that they choose to keep beautiful and clean.  Gardeners who move to another property have been stewards.  My idea?  I would encourage anyone and everyone to garden.  Once you garden, you understand the treasure inviolate that is nature. Would that everyone would be a gardener.