Sunday Opinion: Smitten

The timing of Valentine’s Day could not be better for this cake and candy girl. What do I mean exactly by “cake and candy girl”?  I like my garden lush, my soil warm and rich with the texture and unforgettable fragrance of on-going composting.  I like rain in almost any form, also hot sun and cool shade.  Puffy clouds moved along by a good breeze-excellent.  I like the sweet smell of hyacinth, tulip, mown grass, petunia, rose, and phlox.  I like the sun-warmed taste of tomatoes.  If there is a better perfume than basil, or rosemary, please let me know.  I like my clay pots cooly dark and saturated with water.  The process of evaporation-symphonic.  I likewise look forward to my gravel crunching under my feet.  I like a garden good enough to eat. 

However, my thermometer has been glued on 24 degrees for days; the fogged sky is that color that ought to be known as Michigan miasma grey.  Once in a while a dispirited snowflake falls like a lead sinker out the window. Restless doesn’t begin to describe that itch of mine that cannot be scratched.  If you are a gardener, you will not think me excessively dramatic-just pitifully righteous.  The dawn of Valentine’s Day-I am so ready.  I am up at 5am, wondering what Buck has planned to dispell the winter gloom. 

 I must confess that I have certain preconceived notions,  about which you should be advised. In my opinion, women have a sap gene that opens and rises every day and month, every year, regularly, predictably and reliably.  Everyone they love gets caregiving, encouragement, nurturing, time, attention, genuine interest-pets regular as rain.  In spite of this notion, these ideas do not wholly apply to my life.  Buck is a man caregiver extraordinaire-he knows in an instant if my breathing changes; he goes on to ask what’s up.  Likewise my landscape superintendent Steve-he notices everything, and better yet, he addresses everything.  Sometimes with words, more regularly with deeds.  So take my bluster about women with a grain of salt-there are more than a few good men out there. 

But back to my day.  I realized by 10 am that Valentine’s Day had never crossed Buck’s mind.  In all fairness, he has been pretty busy looking after me.  I know now why lots of people who get a knee replaced go to a rehab facility for a week or two.  It is a lot of work, enabling the day for an injured person. He has taken time off, and committed to being spot on.  He is available-he helps me-day in and day out.  I see this all the time-in my community, in my country-but I have this at home now.  Wow. He is busy, looking after me. I do not remember how Valentine’s day came up, but the shock on his face was clear for a moment before it disappeared.

He asked me what valentine would most make me happy-I could tell he was ready to deliver.  This was easy-caramel ice cream and caramel sauce.  A treat for this cake and candy girl.  He came home some time later, hauling the caramel upstairs-but in his left hand, a dozen pink and white bicolor roses wrapped in waxed green tissue.  I took a deep breath.  My winter world is hard-oak flooring, plaster walls, porcelain sinks, stone counter tops, paint on canvas-you get the idea.  Those roses, fresh and fragrant-they made my heart pound.  Buck made me recut the stems myself.  This is a good thing-no matter whatever knocks you over, any gesture to get back up and going is a good idea.  I am back on my feet-sort of. These gorgeous roses now drinking in a vase in my office-divine.

Buck told me our local little florist some 4 blocks away was jammed today.  Harry opened his shop on Valentine’s Sunday.  The place was jammed with men, thinking at the last minute to rise to the occasion.  Harry had chocolates, cards, and stuffed animals, in addition to his roses.  Hilarious; Buck says he was doing a land office business today. Buck confessed he was just one of many men who were out today, shopping.  For once, it amused him, and engaged him, to be in line to check out. He had company and community.

Aside from Buck’s floral shop experience, I am the delighted recipient.  My dozen roses smell delicious, and are beautiful to look at.  The buds are just opening; burgeoning.  The foliage is glossy-live to the touch.  These roses are so beautiful, I could weep. They are very different than the roses I grow in my garden.  They hail from  South America; it is a variety that grows well and blooms reliably under glass.    No matter my skill as a gardener, I am grateful for my community florist. That entire industry made it possible for Buck to bring roses home to me-mid winter. 

When Buck brings flowers home for me, I get animated. He is not the least bit discouraged by my gardening history. He has no problem bringing flowers home from the florist-why should he? I so love that he does this.  Some friends are afraid to send me flowers-as I grow them. Though I live eat and breathe the flower world, one could never have too many.  Please note-I love flowers.  Any time.  Any occasion.  Did I say, for any reason?    

Smitten I am, today.  By flowers. By beautiful landscapes.  By gardens.  By gorgeous garden ornament.  By Buck.  By my hope for spring. Spring-soon.   I so love my Valentine’s day roses; thank you Buck. The gardens-my garden-six weeks out.  Spring-only six weeks away. Like I say, the timing of Valentine’s Day is good.  I’ve had a little mid-winter thaw.

At A Glance: Come To The Table, Please

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house bound 026What does winter mean?  Housebound.  Even Howard gets stir crazy. The cold, the snow, the blustery winds-these things force me inside.  My house, which usually seems large enough to live in, and more than large enough to clean, is the moral equivalent of a hamster cage in winter.   I take three steps, and a wall looms.  In self-defense, I am studying my views from inside out.  I pace from one room to the next-this a condition from which there is little relief.  But today I am not only pacing, but thinking about the views from my rooms. Placing a container that is good looking piled high with snow improves this view.

house bound 020I am happy that my rose and perennial garden I thought to spare a full fall cut back.  I like seeing the frail brown sticks out my window. My winter view has texture, mass, light and dark.  I like a congested, visually lively, winter perennial landscape.  I could write on like a fool about this.  But suffice it to say, from indoors, I like to see something going on.    

house bound 023Lady Miss Bunny, my steel and moss sculpture patterned after a breed of English cow, stands out my bedroom window. She weathers.  Every morning and every night I check her out-some winter days I wonder how she manages.  I like seeing her there, on duty.  Never mind the rain, the wind, the snow, the sleet-I see her the last before I climb into bed, and the first thing when I get up.    

house bound 034My kitchen door is full length glass- the largest uninterrupted view I have from indoors.   A yew hedge is faced down with the thatched remains of some large clumps of panic grass, and not much else.  This view could definitely stand some improvement. I am equally at ease choosing something that has great appeal, with no location in mind, as I am able to keep a spot in mind that needs something.  Something center of interest that works well in the summer in this spot no doubt will improve my winter.     

house bound 028The pattern of the window panes figures in the view.  What I see standing up is different than what I see sitting down. But what I see as the biggest issue-designing the views out such that privacy is maintained.  I have been in homes with lots of windows, where the drapes are always drawn.  Those drapes work to insure privacy inside, but they also keep people unnecessarily cooped up.  I have designed my landscape such that I am able to see out, without being the object of someone’s attention from the street. 

house bound 030My enclosed front porch is almost entirely glass.  One has to come through the porch door, to get to the front door.  This architectural feature provides for privacy from the outside to the inside.  In addition, my five foot tall yew hedge runs along the entire north and south side of my corner lot some 11 feet out from the house foundation.  The hedge is the backdrop for the public presentation of the landscape from the street.  It is likewise a backdrop for my view out.  No one outdoors can see me standing in the window, nose pressed to the glass; this is a good thing.

house bound 040My office at home has windows on three sides; the space can be very chilly on a cold day.  But I more value being able to see out.  The landscape here is layers of yew, grasses, and rhododendron through which I can see.  They screen my window from the outside.  I am incidentally able to tell fairly well what the outside temperature is, based on the degree of droop of the rhododendron leaves.   

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If it is not clear whether your views screen from one side, and permit views out from the other, photograph them.  The lens of a camera has no emotional investment or judgment about what you have-it is a machine that records what is there.  You will be able to tell what is not there.  Now might be the best time to be planning for better views from your rooms.

Green Walls

securedownload[2]I have seen plenty of walls in my career that have taken my breath away; surely there are countless and untold thousands of other beautiful walls I might not ever see.  I cut an article out about the stone wall at the Picasso Museum in Antibes many years ago-I am still crazy about it.  Janet has been there many times; her entire expression changed, just talking to me about it.  But no stone, concrete or brick wall could ever compare, in my mind, to a green wall.  This nursery row of espaliered katsuras is just about the most beautiful thing I have ever laid eyes on.  I could keep on looking at this, as long as I was able to keep on gardening.

July21 010Janet has some gorgeous walls of her own-green, and otherwise. This old carpinus so beautifully shaped and trimmed is a lot of things.  Green punctuation. Green sculpture. Some days it reads to my eye as a brief green wall.  Were you ever able to see the giant glass window behind this wall, from which a beautiful shade garden can be viewed, you would understand the part played by this carpinus.  It makes for enclosure, solitude, privacy.   DSC_0006The bricked south side of my house encloses my interior space, but it functions in my garden like a wall.  That wall radiates heat to my roses and Japanese anemones.  The corresponding green wall to the north-Thuja “Nigra”-a dense arborvitae with a uniformly vertical habit.  It corresponds in heft and height to the wall of my house.  It creates one of the four edges of the composition of this garden space.   Not incidentally, it shields me from a view of the two story house next door. My private garden-just what I want, when I get home.

July21 042Green walls do not only screen untoward views.  They provide living enclosure to  private garden spaces.  This classical bust, positioned to peer through a green wall is quietly and beautifully wreathed, framed,  in green.  

Aug 17a 016Not all green walls need be so formal and planar.  Irregularly and thickly placed evergreens can enclose a garden space in a more natural way than a flat wall. Though I am delighted to see or read about the great European gardens, designing in the round is a luxury.  I have a small space upon which to garden, as do most clients I have.  My clients with properties 8 acres or better-not so many.  Green walls are most definitely a part of my design vocabulary. I have no problem planting small plants in anticipation of a green wall;  plants grow.   

Ilitch0605 (2)Only once have I had the occasion to plant carpinus of this size.  Their planting and care consumed me for three years, until they established properly.  Behind them, another wall of spruce.  Behind and beyond those spruce, properties with no stewards.  That view, once it disappeared, never intruded again on my clients delight in their garden. My arborvitae were seven feet tall when I planted them-I waited, and was rewarded with a beautiful tall wall-faster than I thought.

securedownload[5]Espaliers trained from London Plane trees-this is a very big gesture. When the day comes that all those favoring big gestures in the landscape need to line up and congregate, I will get up and go.  This swooping green wall is defined by trees whose trunks have calipers suggesting considerable age-the green has yet to grow in. 

Patience by no means is one of my strong points.  Unless there is a garden at issue.  I have infinite patience for the growing of the green-as do most gardeners.  Green walls?  Should you have a place for one, or several-spring is coming.