Sunday Opinion: The Horseradish Plant

Years ago Buck made a tentative inquiry about whether there might be room in the garden for a horseradish plant. Just the thought of it made me shudder.  This weedy, fast growing, wildly spreading nigh on to invasive plant’s main claim to fame is its fiery tasting, stinking roots.  I know, this sentence needs editing, but I just need to make it clear that the last thing in the world I want for my garden is horseradish.  Fresh horseradish is hot as hell, and is well known for its ability to burn the inside of one’s nose-this part I can live with.  But a plant that is not dug every year for a harvest of roots, and a replanting of a piece will annex every yard of ground within its reach.  Every day it goes unchecked is a day it becomes more impossibly entrenched.  Once you have horseradish, you will forever have horseradish. Plastic tubs and concrete bunkers-I have seen horseradish break out of them with every bit the vigor of bamboo.  Like I said, I shuddered, but I gave Buck no outward hint of my distaste for the idea.  I just changed the subject.  Once he had brought it up for the 10th time, I felt guilty.  What was the the matter with me, denying him his horseradish?  On other occasions he had asked for tomato plants-I said no.  My property is small; I was selfishly unwilling to give up any plant or lawn space for tomatoes. I gave in.

I bought him a one gallon pot of horseradish for Father’s Day.  The only way I could stomach the purchase was to make it a gift from  Howard and Milo.  He was predictably delighted.  The pot sat on the driveway for a month-where would I put it?  I only watered it when it seemed on the brink of certain death.  I probably could have left it on the drive for several years without any ill effect-but the time did come when I planted my new perennial garden.  I picked a spot for the horseradish, out of view from the kitchen window, and have not looked at it since.  I am quite certain Buck has not gone out to look at it either.  Did I encase it in plastic or steel?  No.  After the first frost, my plan is to stand over Buck while he digs it up, shaves down the roots,  and replants a snippet.  This part he does not know about yet-no sense getting him all riled up way in advance of the event.  While he is doing his maiden horseradish dig, I will be giving him tips and pointers about how to handle the yearly culling of the roots.  Owning a horseradish has a good deal of responsibility that comes with that ownership.  I know he is thinking of his previous home.  He had evergreens, grass, and a horseradish- on his 3 acres.  I cannot imagine how much land that plant has overtaken in the last 8 years.

We haven’t spoken again about the horseradish until last night.  He began the conversation with a synopsis of a chapter of a favorite book he is rereading-Bird By Bird, written by Anne Lamott.  Buck writes short stories now and then; Anne Lamott is a writer who also teaches writing.  She has this idea that every person comes with an emotional acre all their own, standard issue.  Every person has the right to do with their emotional acre what they please. They can plant it, or not.  It can look like a garage sale, or a junk yard, or a stretch of unblemished beach.  If people come through the gate of your emotional acre, and do harm, or try to make changes to it, you have the right to ask them to leave.  As a writer, it is important to know what the interior life of a character looks like in order to write convincingly about them.  I don’t know when it dawned on me that he were not talking about writing short stories.  He was talking about the horseradish plant.  He finally told me that he knew that my garden was not just a garden.  It is my emotional acre.  That I did not need to explain or defend that.  It came with me, standard issue.  He appreciated how I had planted something just for him on my acre.  And how much that meant to him.  It does not seem now like there will be any need to dig the horseradish this fall-or ever, really.  Let it go for broke.  When it gets out of hand, as it most surely will,  I’ll be thinking about what is important in life, not a horseradish plant.

At A Glance: Rosemary

A Good Grass Day


Not every day do I need to look at a drift of hellebores blooming, or a yellow magnolia in  its glory. I don’t always require a succession of perennials, blooming.  Some days are just much simpler than that.  My grass gets cut on Fridays.  Some Fridays I barely notice. Some weeks the weather has been wet, and the cut is ragged and too long.  Some weeks there is no rain, and the grass looks flat out parched rather than mowed.

I do not entertain that much.  In early summer, almost never; I am too tired after working all day.  July of this year was so brutally hot, I was only outside long enough to soak my pots.  Our very hot weather has moved on to some other part of the world; we have had regular rain.  We have begun having friends to dinner in the garden again. 

On those nights, I am glad for the delphiniums, the roses and asparagus representing, the lush stands of ferns, the fountain jets making their music, the boxwood trimmed just so, the balmy temperatures- This is any gardener’s idea of  first class entertainment.  I like my garden to entertain my company; that they have a good time gives me pleasure.  All of the visual punch I can muster makes a garden a visual getaway for dinner guests. 

But there are those nights when I come home with a less vigorous agenda in mind, and perhaps more in need of nothing more demanding than that closely and simply cropped plane of green grass.  Not every day calls for a party with some plant or another popping or holding forth.

My grass is one of my favorite perennials.  By no means do I have acres of it-a few small green grass sheets is more like it.  It endures the corgis, the drought, the heat and the cold with aplomb.  As for care, I water when it needs it; it gets cut once a week.  You can tell from this picture that we have had rain.  There is no substitute for water from the sky.     

As for my experience of the garden, a lush lawn still perfumy from the mowing is a  pleasure of a quiet sort.  When the grass is green good, and neatly cut, everything else in the garden looks better.  The grass is the lowest, and quietest place in my garden.   It is a shock and sound absorber. Properly watered grass gives underfoot. 

Lowering the lawn plane 8 inches, and retaining the soil with steel edging was my way of making that grass plane an important visual element of the landscape.  This grass is not what was left over after the landscape beds were made-it is a feature.  Any plant or element in a garden gets visual importance from how it is handled.  Long ago when I had acres, I featured the grass plane by how and where I mowed.   

My grass is not what I would call lawn.  It has weeds, bald spots, piddle burn, corgi claw marks-all the usual scars.  This does not bother me in the least.  Neatly cut and green is all I need. 

The corgis have an especially good view of the grass; their legs are barely 8 inches long.  My lower level garden permits a corgi-eye view of the lawn plane of the upper level.  This is just one of the reasons how a change of level in a garden can delight the eye.     

 Some days the simple garden pleasures are enough.

Painting A Fountain


I placed this 19th century American cast iron fountain in a client’s existing terrace pool 6 years ago.  Last fall, she was ready for a change. A rectangular pool much larger than the original circular pool was installed, and a steel surround was built to finish that new pool.  The overgrown boxwood was removed, and additional stone was added to the terrace. 

A picture frame opening was left in the stone, and planted this spring with isotoma fluvialitis.  The steel surround was painted in much the same color as the original fountain.  The surface of the steel was only primed in patches, so the surround would rust in the same manner as the fountain. The design of the surround was taken literally from the lower part of the base of the fountain.  More recently, she decided that the color of the fountain and surround was too light; she wanted to tone down the color of both pieces. 

Working with color outdoors is challenging.  But I knew I would be developing the finish in stages.  A pale blue gray would be applied first.  Though this is a pastel color, it is distinctively blue.  Successive coats would reduce that blue to a trace. 

A darker brown-black coat was applied over the blue, to tone it down.  The pool surround got its first coat of blue gray.  Like the blue, this very dark color applied to the fountain would eventually be barely visible. 

I sanded the entire surface of the fountain at this point, to bring some of the blue back up, remove some of the black, and expose some of the cream-white of the original color.  Working on the color with the fountain in place is necessary.  It is much too difficult to imagine an entire environment, and how light affects the surface.  Needless to say, I spent a lot of time on a ladder.

The sanded version has a lot of contrast-more contrast than what I wanted. The intent of the finish color is that it will reflect the predominant colors on the terrace, without standing out.  All of the furniture and containers on this terrace are of subtle and restrained color.  Much of that color is a result of age and exposure to the elements.  To replicate an aged finish is by no means easy, and my experience creating them is limited.  On my side-I had the time to let the finish develop. 

 The sanding brought color contrast to the surface.  The gray wash which came next toned that contrast down.  I liked the close relationship between all of the colors, but I knew I needed a gray that was a little darker, and less blue for the finish coat.  

Over the gray wash, a darker, gray/brown wash. At this stage, I was wiping off as much paint as I put on.  Though the fountain pool would prevent anyone from being this close to the surface of the fountain, It was my intent that the color be best described as gently faded. 

Every color layer is represented, to greater, or lesser extent.  The final coat of gray is dark enough to make the fountain sculpture blend gracefully with the rest of the terrace.  Subtle does not have to mean sleepy; up close,  there is plenty of visual interplay between all of the colors. 

This afternoon, the concrete interior of the fountain is to be painted black.  This will make the surface of the water reflective of what is going on in the sky.  It will also change the feeling and appearance of the color on the fountain.  In a perfect world, the fountain sculpture color will need no adjusting.  If it does, I’ll be ready. The finish color on the surround will be much influenced by the black interior.  I hope to finish that part of the painting this afternoon.

 By early next week, I hope to be able to fill the pool with water. The final step?  The water plants.

Late afternoon update-the interior of the concrete pool is painted, and the surround is one shade darker.  What a huge difference the black makes; the fountain looks darker to my eye.  It must be that no more light is being reflected onto the fountain via the pale gray concrete. I am thinking a lighter gray wash over the dark surround color is all I need to do to finish.