Tanka poet writing
in the 'Manyō' style
What a delight it
When, of a morning,
I get up and go
To find in full bloom a flower
yesterday was not there.1
When the house in the pine woods was bought, there was little
here that could foretell what would become of the grounds around it
over the next two decades.
At the north side of the house were standard landscaper
over-plantings of young hollies, junipers, too many low jagged
cotoneasters tangled up with glossy-leaved periwinkle myrtle (aka
Vinca minor), one clump of daylilies, one yew, and six baby azaleas
crowded behind a limestone boulder by the porch. In the front of the
house in the narrow strip of lawn stood a silly-looking lollypop
tree -- of what species I cared not. It had to go immediately! Years
later, its replacement, a redbud tree. Fully blooming and covered in
bees the last week each April.
amid the joys
she whispers her sad news,
idly plucks a redbud
from my hair2
Out front, a Japanese maple seemed to be growing out of a
mysterious forty foot long green mound like a barrow at
Stonehenge -- but this, a sprawl of
junipers bending to the grass. Pruning began there. And gradually,
emerging out of the litter, enormous limestone boulders. My someday
exceptions, no plantings but tall grass on the other three sides of
the house. A bank of red dirt leading to a gully to the east full of
all kinds of building debris, barbeque debris, a veritable midden.
Adjacent to it and down slope, fronting the woods, a continuing
expanse of barren depleted tropical soil that comprises the red
Virginia clay. To begin with, on the bank, in go blue pacifica
plants. Soft low evergreens that hold slopes.
south side of the house had a forsythia plunked in the middle. The
west side, one graceful unknown tree beside the garage -- and more
hollies that bordered the driveway.
The house, like a black and
white English half-timbered cottage, is built in a clearing of dense
woodlands. Virginia pine with poison ivy rampant up their coarse
trunks, elegant soaring tulip poplars called " the Juno of trees" by
Thomas Jefferson who also had a home nearby in Forest. Dogwoods, red
maples, red cedars, pin oaks, white oaks, black gums, hickory,
chestnuts, nasty thorny vines called "waitabits" and smaller-thorned
green briars, wild roses, honeysuckle, sassafras. Across the stream
we didn't know we had, an enormous black walnut. And ferns
everywhere near the stream. Here and there fronting the road, paw
paws and mimosa.
What will your garden be? my
husband, raised on a farm as a child and a grower of vegetables,
asks right away.
I have no idea! -- and this held true
for a long time.
But he wanted a
little pond. He wanted to build a bridge across the stream. He
wanted a raised-bed garden made of railroad ties for his vegetables.
And we set about to make all of this happen. First came the railroad
ties. Sturdy Virginians had to lay them out for us. 18' X 18' in 4'
wide strips to be filled with dirt. That hole in the center would
be great with roses . . . I mused.
Then the extra ties
were Skil-sawed in half to make four bridge foundation steps set in
concrete. To elevate the bridge well above the stream which can
overflow its banks in torrential rains, he explained, as I
hammered into the 20' long frame he built each spaced two by four,
watching the stream below me disappear from sight. And then in a
couple of months, I stained it black. In all these years, it has
never been disturbed by the rarely rushing waters. Or even by a
heavy fallen maple branch. Staunch.
by the stream
I nip a
sweep leaf litter off
the little bridge3
Needs daffodils -- and
amid the weak shadows
the brightest green:
ready upright clumps
pond digging. Studying pond brochures for directions. 3-mil sheet of
plastic liner set in over the dirt ledges for water plants. A visit
to the limestone quarry to select a ton and a half of shot-rock. All
dumped in the driveway. $75.00. And then the days of hauling,
dragging rocks on plastic shower curtains over to the pond hole.
Needs a waterfall, he says. He digs a small shallow
hole above the big hole. Two waterfalls would be better, he
says. For the acoustics. One more smaller hole up slope that
fits right into the niche of the gully. Two giant black garbage bags
for those pools. Plenty of leftover rocks hold them in place.
Needs a pump. Need to lay electric cable underground from
pond to porch outlet to run the tiny pump.
Connect the hose and fill them
Needs cattails, I say. Needs a water lily. Needs
water iris, too. Needs fish! Needs ferns on the
Needs azaleas. Needs a goddess. And a bench.
Needs a formal pyramidal evergreen for lovers to hide behind and
smooch. (I am thinking Ryoangi Gardens: always one of the
fifteen rocks hidden from sight.) Research leads me to an
daylilies. They hide that great pyramidal boulder. Move them
closer to the driveway in the wood's edge. Need a path for the
shortcut to the mailbox. Need another path along the ridge above the
ponds. Such a beautiful vantage point. So cool in summer. And the
sound of the waterfalls is best heard there, I point out. Then
mulch a path through those woods.
Need a bench for the clearing. A place to sit
and rest in the shade. Need to make a little patio in front of
it. Scrounged some pond rocks. Set them in
the dirt. And then there is that well head. An ugly iron stanchion
looking like a fireplug in the middle of nowhere. I know! Turn it
into a birdbath. Bought a concrete birdbath top. Paint both
parts gray so it looks like a lead birdbath. Total cost: $8.00. Plus
paint. Twice when the well needed working on, the men lifted off the
heavy birdbath bowl like it was a lid and got down to work hauling
up 375 feet of flexible pipe. Functional. And aesthetically pleasing
now to the confirmed-at-last Gardener.
Need rhododendrons to enclose this bench garden.
For privacy. (I finally begin to give them names as each slowly
takes on an identity of its own for me.)
And a Carolina
spicebush for the fragrance. And fern in a planter. The moss
comes on its own for there is watering now. The birds watch. And
begin to use it.
robins in the water of spring6
The prehistoric club tree moss inches in from the
woods towards the bench garden. Yellow cowslips a neighbor brought
me are dug in here and there. For spring. I add some purple crocus.
It becomes evident at last I am permanently infected with ideas for
That hollow would
be lovely with a couple more rhododendrons. And periwinkles to
carpet it . . . Needs a statue to reign over it all . .
(It is now the blue hollow.)
A neighbor culling liriope brings me some. I ring
the little boy with it. Then divide larger plants to edge the paths
with it. So hardy this. They call it "monkey grass" locally. I do
not ask why.
I keep pulling periwinkle, strand by strand,
from out of the original front patch, habitually plopping it at all
the woods' edges now it is free from the cotoneasters forever.
Yes, I can have that tiny emerald lawn now. It could set off a
cottage garden full of flowers, with an old iron fence for its
border. Black to match the house timbers. Surely I can find one,
my thoughts went spinning, for in the 19th century Lynchburg used to
have an iron foundry and parts of the city itself look like New
Orleans with all the ornate iron grillwork made here.
naked house needed many shrubs. On the east side of the porch a
deutzia, replete by May with tiny white bell-like flowers. Lacey as
a bride. Amazed to see poems about it in Japanese haiku. They call
it ū. So many of our plants have their origins in the Far
I had this same shrub long ago in my other home in
New Jersey. Loved it then. It grows a third larger here. Then a
magenta-red rhododendron and a viburnum which promises clusters of
white blooms complete that display. It now tops the porch roof by
three feet! Found in deep shade, beneath its boughs, it had sent out
shoots. Dug up a healthy cutting, planted that across the driveway
to balance out my late spring snow-white blooming trees and shrubs.
A few years and already 8' tall and wide, half the size of the
parent plant. And in full bloom with the native dogwoods. I can see
it from my studio window.
I turn the corner of the porch to where a newer garden grows
along the south side of the porch. Knockout roses: red when they
first open, they fade swiftly, magically, to stay hot pink. A yellow
rose. Stella d'Oro lilies I see planted in front of all the gas
stations around town. Hardy. That's for me! Lemon or deep yellow,
short, perfect in among my roses. And moonbeam coreopsis, pale lemon
yellow with soft fuzzy foliage. And yellow mums for their autumnal
bloom. I see it all in my head. I who had no idea what my garden
This little garden owes its existence to the
deer with whom I've learned to share this place. My first rose
garden at the center of the raised beds, though a lovely idea, in
fact served the deer many a meal. I move three into the rock garden
out front and four to the south side of the porch close by.
Concessions are made. But not with my roses! Those new
locations the deer consider out of bounds. But five white azaleas by
the driveway woods got eaten up, too. I had to remove them. Put in a
second viburnum -- the cutting from the big one. They don't
bother it. Even sleep beneath it.
Deer have their
own regular paths through the property, and the raised beds with the
roses was along one of them. So they munched as they went along.
Canterbury bells, black-eyed Susans, columbines comprised their
salad bar which they still keep cropped short to grass height. I
accept it as "lawn," a backdrop.
I give up on notions of
any edible plants in that center. Minimal care of the raised-bed
garden is imperative as I am met with the terminal illness and
long-term care of the other gardener. I put a giant garlanded
concrete planter in the center with a young slow-growing Alberta
spruce in it, scatter cream-colored pebbles to cover all the dirt.
Zero maintenance, but a surprisingly beautiful tone it lends.
Especially in moonlight.
Next, at a
jutting-out of the house where the ground floor bedroom window is,
in a niche I plant a yellow jasmine (gelsemium) vine. For fragrance
I have never smelled, but hear is wondrous. In a couple of years, it
is headed up the roof of the house with its blooms! I smell nothing.
Its branch strands tangle in the gutters. Another one of my
mistakes. Sadly, I chop it down. But I salvage one piece with a good
bit of root. What to do with it? How keep it under control? An
Now, after years of
waiting, it is over the top, the air as you stroll to the pond under
the arbor in late spring, has an unbelievable soft sweetness. Wafts
over to the porch in the slightest breeze. And it can do no harm
growing thus, free-standing. Another of those years-in-the-making
"overnight success stories" that are gardening.
the evening sun
the last gold
from the jasmine arbor7
There's still a coral, latest-blooming azalea where the
jasmine used to be, and then a Japanese holly and a tall narrow
lilac tree on the other side of the window. Then another huge-now
Japanese holly resembling boxwood which I will not have close to the
house for they reek like cat urine.
I am gardening now by scents and by
textures, shapes. But predominantly by an overriding controlled
Early spring: yellows and blues a few purple
Easter basket pastels in the rock garden
not a hint
at the heart of spring!8
Late spring: white, hot pink, yellow giving way to
mauve and last, magenta
May - June: rock garden and
planters and cottage garden have their perennials
augmented by annuals of what I call jolly crayon colors: purples
blues pinks whites.
I never know quite what will
appeal each year in the garden centers and that is why every year my
gardens are different. At this stage, mid to late spring is the
busiest time of working with the garden. Earlier though, in March,
lawn patching with new seed then straw. When the morning
temperatures stay above 40s, then comes hauling with a handcart and
wheelbarrow the basement wintered-over plants: ferns and geraniums
mostly. (This past year, I even wintered-over a purslane which is
supposedly an annual. It is flourishing and will flower come
My gardens are orchestrated with many variations on a theme
-- it is a
huge living painting that has ever-changing happenings with the
varied bloom times to the inevitable flourishing of some plants, the
dying off of others as I work out their individual preferences and
painfully come to learn that some things will not tolerate others:
across the new bridge, rhododendrons planted in the far woods
beneath that great black walnut tree, mysteriously sickened and
died. No others I planted anywhere else did. A local at the farm
store told me, "It's the walnut poisoned them." I never knew there
was a name for this condition until I read in the horticulturalist's
weekly column of May 6, 2009 it is "walnut wilt."
regardless of some general planting instructions on the provided
labels, it often gets down to "location location location." Each
mini-ecosystem has variations of light, of soil, temperature. My
basil, labeled Full Sun, kept dying in the sunny raised beds. Ever
empirical, I ignore its label, pot it, move it to a northeastern
exposure by the porch door. It flourishes.
natural disasters of wind or ice storms, can turn a shady area into
a sunny one when trees fall.
fill the icy
A change of garden must occur. When
two pines crashed that lightly shaded the pond bank's azalea bed,
the azaleas would be exposed to searing sun. A young Japanese maple
tree went in that following spring and all is well again. Nothing
can be assumed to be permanent.
And there is the gardener's ignorance and whimsy that
plays a role. First here, pained by the bare backside of the house,
I thought: ivy. An English cottage must have ivy! In it
went, little sprigs yanked from deep in the woods nearby and planted
at both corners of the south side. On the riding mower, our one
faithful helper watches me planting.
"You don' wanna
do that, Missus!"
"Oh, " say I, "but
it will be so pretty, Hiawatha! It'll soften the look of the bare
A few years later, I am sweating and chopping away
endlessly at its roots with a hand-axe for it had climbed at least
nine feet up and stuck mercilessly to the bricks, then over and
under the cedar timbers of the upper house, heading for the roof and
the Virginia blue sky.
The man on the riding mower, with me
until he retired years later, pauses, just watches, turns the engine
back on, drives back and forth across the lawn singing gospels to
himself in his gloriously rich baritone. It did
look pretty though, I mumble and huff as I yank and hack. I had
also put some in the woods near the driveway and panicked. Ripped
what I could out of the forest floor there -- a far easier and
cooler task than off the back of the house. And then got another
bright idea. I left a couple of pieces next to two tall old scraggly
pines with few live branches. Beside what was to become the bench
garden. As the ivy grew, I tied it to the trunks with wool. To keep
them only there. At a guess, I would say those trees are gripped --
are standing -- by dint of those ivy sprigs that have girdled their
trunks like hawser ropes and grown at least 75 feet. English ivy was
my worst mistake. I use it judiciously now -- only in planters.
Down slope, is the back
of the house. The scene of the tale of the great ivy caper. That
emerald arborvitae I put in by the pond is such a wonderful vertical
architectural feature, I conclude as it gains a height of 30 feet.
Need another arborvitae at the back of the house.
Then comes the first back door of the house basement. I finally
light upon a dusty rose paint for I've seen and loved the outlandish
jolly door colors of English houses and follow suit.
Needs a rose to droop over the doorway. Yellow! In
goes a Graham Thomas rose, hale all these years and soon to bloom
late spring through fall. I don't mind snipping part of its long
thorny branches, rose-laden, always escaping the clothesline rope
tied on a concrete nail that holds the bush loosely against the
wall. They bend low across the door, get in my face as I come and
go, with tools for gardening.
The forsythia (actually two together), small when we
came, was demanding too much maintenance planted as it was by the
original owners between the heat pumps. So enormous they grew, they
constantly blocked the heat pump fans! Had to be trimmed away from
them regularly. Up a six foot ladder I went, wielding an electric
hedge trimmer! It was like grooming an elephant. One year, it
harbored a hidden bald-faced hornet's nest. I barely escaped them by
dropping the trimmer and running for cover in the basement. The
hornets I could safely watch from the basement window. They
instantly turned their collective rage on the hedge trimmer !
That monster shrub finally was cut to the ground only
a couple of years ago. One of the few things I ever tried to kill --
and still it survived. Its roots I discovered, trying to
hack it out, were long, more than an inch in diameter, hard as an
old pine branch! Hopeless task. Solution: lemonade out of lemons, I
keep it trimmed as 2' X 2' X 3' hedge. Because the area it took up
is open, another wee garden sprang up behind it. Repeating the
beauty of the pink and yellow roses at the porch garden, I planted
two more Knockout roses, two yellow lilies, a mauve-pink clematis
that surprised me the other day already showing its first two
flowers on the first rung of its trellis, fuschia-edged white
gladiolas against the wall.
Beside the next back door is my mint patch -- and a
just-planted tomato. The deer also eat any tomatoes in the raised
beds as soon as they are ripe. I watched my husband make elaborate
preparations growing them in the basement from seed and setting them
out every year -- and we rarely got more than a handful of tomatoes.
He persisted. That was his garden. Zucchini, eggplant,
cucumbers, radishes, snow peas, sugar snap peas, string beans,
banana peppers, chili peppers, green peppers made their way to the
leaf cover, I pluck
the bean cool10
And then, he died. The raised beds are mine to deal
with. Or not.
Last spring, now
I am alone, I experimented and put one tomato plant in a huge
flowerpot by the back door. . . I plucked cherry tomatoes until
fall. All I dare put in those raised beds is what the deer won't
eat. Chives, garlic chives, so far, cat mint and this morning,
before the rain comes, maliciously and with glee, I put in four new
red chili peppers.
is the sign I'd love to put next to them. But I
suspect I shall have chilis this year for my new experiments with
westward, the other dusty rose basement door. And a black garage
door. I flank it with the ubiquitous hardy crape myrtles of
Virginia. Pink "dwarf" ones (though they are 8 feet tall, exactly
what I wanted for height) for summer blooming. They soften the
starkness of the brick basement of the house.
leafing out now as are all trees by April's end. "The Great Green
Wall" as we always called our woods, returns, bestowing complete
privacy. No one to be seen.
gleaming clipped hedges . . .
no one about.11
Up the steep west side slope, beside the last tapering wall,
I put in another coral azalea, an arborvitae, a yew and a Japanese
holly. All the fallen trees -- for woods never remain static -- I
use as a constant supply of edging logs all around. Totally natural
looking and when they rot as things do rapidly in this humid
climate, there are always more downed trees in the woods to use. My
two good mowers will saw and move them for me. The pileated
woodpecker will occasionally tear one up with delight! The woods
echo with his zeal.
in deep shade
pounds up my edging log12
Over time, I have come to know my herd of deer -- and
compensate accordingly. They are always here . . . coming up from
the streambed to nibble the undergrowth, resting on the south lawn,
then rousing to wander the lawn grazing, or
in the gloaming
nuzzles my apple tree leaves13
Fawns dash this way and that as they wait for her to
finish, then, remembering milk, go for her undersides.
just when I think
cannot stay here
without you, the deer
May begins. So much
of having a garden is about waiting. Waiting to see if what you
plant takes hold. As a novice, I did not always take care to loosen
and cut the roots of some shrubs. Root bound, they died. I pulled
them out easy as a cork from a bottle with the tell-tale flowerpot
shape still there! Another lesson learned. Waiting -- years, sometimes,
until a plant matures. Waiting to see if it remains healthy.
Treating it and waiting to see if it recovers. Waiting for weather
reports to know if one must water, or need not. Plant yet, or not.
Waiting to see how things look where planted. Or if they are the
wrong size, shape or color or growth habit for the spot they are in.
I had to remove a big and cherished gorgeous Keria japonica grown
from a cutting I brought from a dear friend in New Jersey. I planted
it long ago by the porch, around the corner from the viburnum. But
both shrubs became so big and wide, the graceful floppy Keria meshed
with the rigid branches of the viburnum. Reluctantly, I removed it.
Mistake number I-don't-know-what! But in its place, a Japanese holly
I keep trimmed short, and room now for the little rose bed.
And then, in a piney woodland, waiting out the nasty "sulphur
showers" of late April and into May. Self-pollinating, the pines
suddenly look like Victorian Christmas trees decked in tallow
candles about 3"- 4" tall. This male part showers the swelling tan
clusters close by and drifts on every breeze coating all in its path
with yellow powder fine as talcum. When they begin to appear around
mid-April, you can watch them grow to their full extent in days. The
gardens, the pond, the porch and its plants, every surface, has a
dull coating of pollen until the rains come and wash them away. They
promise rain today. The skies are clouded. The female cone clusters
are fully swollen.
Rain at last.
no sound to this
but the rocks darken16
And still it falls. Two days of it. My rain-washed
dripping world is bright again. Periwinkle leaves and all, shine
green, washed clean. Pine "candles" no longer evident having done
their work for this year.
Of garden tools,
a poaching spade is my weapon of choice. I have come to love and use
it for almost everything from bulb planting to tree holes to shrub
holes to setting in the tiny annuals in the rock garden. Long
handled, resembling a regular shovel, the spade is only 6 inches
wide. (A regular shovel is too heavy for me to wield.) My
other constantly-used gardening aid comes from England: a
yard-square piece of burlap bound in green leather with four sturdy
looped handles. It goes everywhere with me as I work. All dirt gets
shoveled on it whenever I dig holes. With the back of the poaching
spade, I can smack the clay lumps flat on the tough burlap and with
the edge of the spade chop them to fine dirt. Then, gathering it by
three of its handles, I pour the softened soil back around the new
planting. The grass remains intact as it was when I began my messy
task. It is fine for carrying my weeding, twigs, trimmings, no
weight to speak of. I will take it to a nearby woods' edge, let go
of two or three handles and toss in the debris, shake out the burlap
and back it goes to hang by one worn leather handle on a nail on the
porch. I cannot work without it.
The other item,
less often used, is the hefty spading fork. But I don't use it to
lift with. It is invaluable to loosen the soil around ferns or
shrubs to transplant them. And I have learned to do this job after a
good rain when the ground is not hard. Shoving the angled spading
fork in at intervals around the outer rim of a plant, then pressing
down on its handle, it acts like a lever, prying the plant up,
hardly disturbing its root system. A tamping into the new location,
a spraying with water to assure there are no air pockets. Plants
moved thus never know anything has happened to them! They undergo no
shock. No wilt.
too, are a must for pruning twigs and tough-stemmed flowers I cannot
deadhead with thumb and fingers. A 2-gallon plastic watering can
saves me hauling hose great distances. Good for filling the birdbath
up the hill. Or pouring on liquid fertilizer here and there. And not
to be forgotten, the heavy-duty big-wheeled garden cart. It even
carried the wood frame for the 20' bridge! Cross-wise.
but, oh, my spring garden17
Without them, no rock garden. And that is the view
that fills the front casement windows. Since those boulders were set
in a sort of three point flow, there is a scalloped band of varied
textures -- tones and textures of
green, and gradually moving into summer, cheery flowers mixed in.
The junipers rise above them framing them in their rapidly growing
sprawl of prickly greenery. So this could not be the usual rock
garden as I first imagined. Instead, my flowers are at the base of
the rocks. It is like the lace edge of a 19th century lady's
petticoat. Ruffled. Flowers tucked all along the rock faces and into
the shady coves between them. In time, I came to realize I could
have shade-loving flowers there, as well as the usual sun plants
inches away. I've dug up a couple of ferns in recent years and put
them in the shadiest place and front them each year with
This year, pink ones. Last year, salmon. Other years
white, whatever appealed. Then I'll purchase a couple of new
geraniums to match and visually lead the eye to the sunny locations
where they are. Another shaded nook and another pink impatiens. A
staple of annuals is ageratum, its middle blue sets off the pinks
and red flowers wonderfully. Dusty miller sometimes, but I cut off
its yellow flowers. I only like its furry silver leaves.
Perennials in the rockery include grape hyacinths which seem
to appear automatically. From bird droppings? But I've dug them out
of the grass by the road and put them in the rock garden and they
proliferate; three Mr. Lincoln roses, taller than I they grow and
put out only a few but incredible deep red blooms. Another rose (
pink) comes from that raised-bed rose heist. A few pale peonies and
royal purple Siberian iris. White candytuft's bloom near done, I
found at the garden center this year a new long-lasting white for
summer -- dianthus. They should come back next year. Hostas lovingly
planted decades ago, divided often to make more, so pretty they
looked in the shady woods down by the bridge with the daffodils,
sadly proved to be more deer salad. I noticed one day long ago, by
chance, driving on my local rounds, hostas growing in sunshine.
(They are typically known to be a shade plant.) Experiment. Either
deer fodder or in to face the rock garden sunlight. I dug one up and
brought it up the hill to the rock garden. Success. Luxuriant.
Divided that one next year and the next until now there are five out
of the one plant. With their pure white-edged green leaves, they
create a handsome companion to set off annuals, especially blue
flowers. But unexpectedly, last year, Somebody chomped them off. I
suspect not deer. This year, I bought cheap wire hanging plant cages
(without their moss-liners) and turned them upside-down over the
hostas. You can't see them, but if a deer or perchance a rabbit
should take a bite, they will break a tooth -- I hope! We
shall see . . .
I've given up pretty much on having any more pink tulips.
Early on, they were wonderful -- 50 in the rock garden come April.
Then fewer and fewer. And this spring, two. Deer are not the only
marauders among the critters my gardens attract. As I said, there
are bunnies. Maybe subterranean bulb sappers? So, white fragrant
multiple-headed narcissus and five white daffodils with pink centers
went in this past fall. Their first bloom this spring, wonderful,
and the pink-centered ones, the longest lasting of the 'daffodil
family' I've ever had! I must add more this fall. These white and
pink daffies will keep me in Easter pastel mode for early spring.
Concessions . . . and good surprises, too, along the
In London, I was taken by the effect of the color chartreuse
with flowers, and on my return, I found that color in two little
golden dwarf arborvitae on sale in a super market. Ovoid in shape,
they are a marvelous addition and have grown to look like Tweedle
Dum and Tweedle Dee guarding the center of the rock garden. A guest
once brought me a white iris and wild geraniums which have pale
lavender-blue single flowers. Incredible they look each year in
mid-April when they surprise me of a morning peeking out beside the
another with the same coloration, is in the rockery now. A
partial-shade plant, I had it in the bench garden for years between
the two ugly pine trees. They did nothing. Leaves, fine, but not one
flower did they produce year after year. Switch tactics. Get
them out of there. Couldn't throw
them away, so I stuck them here and there in the rock garden in the
sun. They love it. Multiply. They, too, present their pale
lavender-blue flowers beside the other golden arborvitae. Other
staple perennials? Coreopsis zagreb and moonbeam, liriope, and a few
Stella d'Oro yellow lilies, two silvery blue-leaved artemesia I call
a teddy bear for their petable plushy soft foliage, then some of the
chewed-down Canterbury bells I salvaged from the raised beds long
ago and they have taken up permanent residence in the rockery too.
Lovely tall bell-like blue-mauve blossoms down their stems just
Around Easter in the supermarkets, are small cellophane
gift-wrapped pots of sweetheart pink roses (long a favorite of mine
used by florists in bouquets). A friend brings me one and I decide
once its blooms were done to put it in the garden. All the sunny
spots taken, I try it on the edge of the woods where there is not
much sun. Once you are a gardener, you cannot bear to throw out
plants. I never expected it to survive but felt I'd at least give it
a chance. It is three feet tall every year since. Another perennial.
Thus my rock garden has evolved, half hospital, half show
Conscious of time as we all must be, I plan to primarily put
in perennials, a one-time expenditure which require little care for
what I called my old lady garden. I'm there now and reaping the
benefits: my earliest spring rockery was abloom -- on auto-pilot.
Just as were the woodland daffodils with their periwinkles and
squill. And now the daffies are done, ferns unfurl near the
daffodils. I need only gaze out the windows to see the whole
panorama, for in all directions the house windows look upon another
On the kitchen counter, a packet of cosmos seeds
waits. It is time to plant them. When the rain is done, I shall put
them in harm's way, in Never-Never Land, in the Raised-bed Garden !
For a dollar or so, I'm willing to gamble the deer
will miss a few. In any case, before any flowers are produced, I
will steal a few young seedlings and plant them in the
thunder and rain off and on for over a week, now. Chilly too. Most
all the luxuriant blooms on shrubs days ago have fallen, petals
strewn everywhere. Blue periwinkle flowers long gone. Dogwood petals
cover the pond area. Nearly denuded, the viburnums sit in a circle
of their own soggy blossoms but the bowed deutzia is still white --
though looking like a tipsy bride. The mauve rhododendrons at the
bench garden open more flowers each day. In all this rain-haze and
gloom, somehow more beautiful.
eerie the trees
thunder . . .
In this "moveable feast" that is a garden, there is always
something else to wait for, something else happening. If you look.
The white rhododendrons beside the pond, buried in the new shade and
almost forgotten, buds huge and pink now. The red one beside the
porch is still thinking things over. My come-lately one of late
rhododendron buds -
now, at last, swollen crimson
give me all I wish for19
Wondering how my new tomato plant is doing, I open the
basement screen door to peek for it is still raining. The tomato has
doubled in size in barely a week! Just sucking up the rain. The
green wool I tied to the broom handle/tomato stake I hammered into
the ground next to it, was only enough to hold the baby plant
secure. Now it thickens, leafs out, is taller and needs more ties.
Rags, said the carpenter as he set in that screen door
before I had put my plant in the ground. He used to grow rows of
tomatoes for market and that is what they used. So today, upstairs I
go to search for material in a 19th century slope-topped pine box I
keep ribbons and seam binding, lace edgings and small pieces of
leftover fabrics from my sewing. I find the two yards of green
calico that has lain there for years. ( Never did get around to
making that sundress.) Rip! go two yard-long strips and then I cut
them in half and have four ties ready as the tomato keeps growing.
Soon as there's a let-up, I will tie the next part of the
Up the hill pulling the wheeled garbage cans, I discover all
shrubbery has put out a burst of new growth and the junipers edging
the driveway need to be cut back. They scrape against the car. Get
the long-handled pruners and return, crunching down on the thick
branches, kicking them under themselves until a drier day when I can
collect them in my burlap carrier and dump them in the woods. . .
Everything drips. And suddenly the air smells like -- martinis?
Yesssssss. Junipers, when wounded, smell like Gilby's gin! From
their gray-green berries it is made. My mouth waters. I do love one
icy Martini every decade or so - and then I am good for nothing!
It's been years since I've had one. Gotta stop trimming
I also note the
junipers have no bagworms. Little brown narrow pinecone-looking egg
cases (clever disguise!) that attach themselves to the branches. It
is too early for them, but soon. If not snipped off, when they hatch
their hundreds of worms, they can attack and destroy an entire tree.
One arborvitae I planted out back-long before the crape myrtle went
in to replace it -- was not on my "watch list." I was shocked one
day to see it, grown to 8', brown and shriveled and totally
destroyed. Bagworm cases hung all over it. It had to be cut down,
wrapped up and taken to the dump. To throw it into the woods would
spread the problem.
pass the place along the drive where honeysuckle will bloom in a few
weeks. I have taught my grandchildren how to lick the delicious drop
of nectar off the bottom end of the hair-like stigma pulling it ever
so carefully up through the neck of the blossom. My thoughts run to
vines and those I've come to know here. Like the ivy, the jasmine
(and an earlier failed experiment with an orange trumpet vine which
grew 30 feet to the roof before we removed it!). One great
well-behaved vine is mandevilla. They bloom constantly until
November. Superb colors I have planted in the past: hot pink and
last year, a luxuriant Blackspot -- cascades of smaller bright
yellow flowers that have a half-inch velvety black dot at the
center. But they are quite pricey and last only a single season.
stick mainly with a one-time planting perennial for thrift's sake.
So it is clematis (which comes in many colors), that has the edge on
the lovely mandevillas as my kind of vine. It blooms lavishly, year
after year, needs little but a high trellis to attach itself to. It
grows so fast that before I knew it, in its permanent home in the
cottage garden, its tendrils were groping the air, looking for a
purchase on something, anything, for it has shot above its
six foot trellis already! I must twist some wire to connect the
trellis to the iron bracket alongside it so the clematis, a royal
purple Jackmanii, won't pull it over and can also attach itself to
the bracket. The wee Eastern narrow-nosed toad I found days ago
snoozing comfortably on the inch-wide curve of it will have to seek
other accommodations when Jackmanii takes over. It has already
flopped a strand or two and they promptly connected themselves to
the low wrought iron fence. Then, I unwind its delicate tendrils and
stake it back against itself, weaving it in. Grabby little thing.
But harmless. By winter, it gets cut back almost to the ground. Its
root core spreads nowhere else. Come spring, it starts its rapid
growth all over again. But then there is the other kind of
honeysuckle . .
beneath its tumble of sweetness
the tree it climbs20
What we nostalgically think of as wild honeysuckle
is actually imported Japanese honeysuckle, brought to this country
in 1806. It has spread all over since then. (Similar to what
happened with kudzu, imported in the early 20th century for roadcut
plantings. "The Vine That Ate the South," they call it. ) I even saw
honeysuckle plants for sale at the garden center the other day in
little plastic pots. Innocuous-seeming -- and I pushed my cart
rapidly past, knowing what it does. It is alternately called the
strangler vine for it kills the young saplings it
There is always something else to be done. You go outside to
attend to one thing, and other gardening chores crop up before you.
In a rush to get it planted because rain was beginning, I forgot to
cut off the cellophane rim of a cardboard ready-to-plant pot of
cilantro. (This cardboard disintegrates leaving the roots free.) Saw
it had doubled its growth already and looked almost like a fern.
Decided to leave it in the clay flowerpot after all. Clipped down
into the wet dirt, the rim peeled off easily. But when I looked up
from that, soggy geranium blooms caught my eye and they had to be
deadheaded. All this rain turns their velvet-like flowers to mush.
Pinched some off into my hand -- and then saw how the other side of
the junipers that frame this rock garden was covering up my
sun-loving plants! Pruning shears needed. Burlap carrier
needed. And the vinca major which
ramps if I don't monitor it closely, had to be yanked out of the
other flowers' spaces it invaded. So hidden under the greedy
junipers, I didn't even realize it was in bloom!
Back to the porch.
Get the tools. Back to the rock garden, begin that task. By the
time I am done, the sun is out and it is steamy, rivulets of
rainwater sparkle in the low spot in the grass, and the burlap
carrier has a load in it for tossing into the woods. I check the
deep planter I pass on the way back down the brick path that leads
to the porch. I always put a brick in the bottom to elevate any big
plastic pot of new flowers so they appear to be growing from the
planter. And they have good drainage. I don't bother filling the
planter with dirt. In frequent heavy rains the planters become
waterlogged. I lift out the flowers in their plastic pot, and sure
enough, the planter has 6" of rainwater. Dump it out. Put the
flowerpot back on the brick. Continue to the porch for a breather .
. . .
And all I was going to do was pull off that plastic
rim on the cilantro! Happens like this all the time. Turn on
the screened porch fans, pull up the matchstick blinds now the rain
seems done for a while. Collapse in a chair to rest and admire the
view on all three sides. First thing I see, the red rhody -- inches
away -- has a few dead twigs on it. And the viburnum is poking two
of its branches into the rhody. As in all endeavors, there is an art
in knowing when to quit. This tweaking will just have to wait for
another day. . . A gentle breeze reinforces the wisdom of this
decision, brings to me my favorite scent of all: damp
in the damp spring
The back aches, arm muscles ache from the cumulative effort,
the excited rush driving me to set up the garden for the hot summer
-- so I can lazily savor it. Spring's like being on a conveyor belt
speeding up. The rains ease off and sun returns this morning. In
that break, I go to buy the last few annuals. Crayon-color time.
Another 4-pack of ageratum, verbena -- one
fire-engine red, one purple, white petunias, yellow lantana, a
yellow marguerite daisy, 4-pack of pink begonias. Need a couple
of extra flowerpots in the basement.
Some flowers I
dig into the ground but some go in pots I can move around the garden
wherever a spot of color is needed as some flowers quit their
blooming and take a rest. Reconnoitering where to put these new
additions, the yellow rose by the back door -- as predicted --
blocks my way. Gingerly, I lift away the two branches with their
plump buds. Never mind potting or digging-in the new annuals.
First get the dirty strings I save to tie back the Graham
Thomas. Whimsically, I tie one
branch with a bow.
Plants distributed, the place really sings with color.
Including that reluctant red rhody by the porch. Taking its cue from
the mauve ones, not to be outdone by such as they, it
suddenly puts forth the largest mass of blooms ever.
Steamy. Too hot to plant now,
but I know where things will go.
spring afternoon . .
even while I doze, things green
The air heavy at sundown. Four deer on the lawn. Three lying
down ruminating, big ears flicking this way and that. One, the
sentinel, remains upright. Occasionally it bends its neck to nibble
grass. The light grows ominous. "Severe thunderstorms imminent.
Possible hail." There is little to be done but listen and wait,
as the deer.
change and what you dream of doing, what you diligently work for, is
left to random occurrences, to the exigencies of reality. Of the
many warnings broadcast for this area, one year this did
happen and the flourishing vegetable garden was decimated. All else,
too, riddled as if by machine gun fire. Another year, on a 6th of
June, the planter by the front door was banked with a foot-high
mound of hail. By afternoon, temperatures were in the 80s. . .
I awake to sunshine.
World still intact.
a garden can be taken for granted. Though infinitely welcome and a
boon to the water table from which my well draws, this much rain is
moving to the stage of too much of a good thing. I saw as I pruned
the forsythia nearby that my tomato had begun to droop. Puzzling.
Its location is ideal. Its soil is what it likes. Sun is on it all
day in good weather. Maybe too much sun for a beginner plant?
Sometimes that is the case with new plants. But a tomato?
The doctor hat goes on: maybe insects? Root disease? And then on a
hunch, I step on the straw I have placed around it as mulch to make
certain it is tamped down sufficiently. SQUOOSH. The soil
beneath is saturated. Too many downpours for nearly three weeks and
not enough sunny moments to counteract it. What to do?
It has a tall mop handle tied to
it. I could resort to making a tent out of an old shower curtain
liner, something I've used several of to protect blooming plants
like my azalea bed from sudden April frosts. And then I remember my
small beach umbrella. More rain predicted to conclude what has been
a perfect breezy dry spring day. Set the umbrella deep into the
mushy dirt beside the tomato. Check the patient in the afternoon and
see it is getting breezes and some late slanting sunshine on it.
Morning rain. I
peer out the window and with satisfaction see the top of a
raindrop-covered umbrella. I go downstairs and open the basement
door to double-check the tomato. "Oh thank you, doctor!"
its foliage tells me, all perked up. ( MD in this case stands
for Mud Doctor.) So these sun-loving plants in their various
situations require different treatment in prolonged wet weather . .
. My bright idea of setting a flowerpot into a larger decorative one
without a drainage hole can backfire should I forget to
empty the accumulated rainwater in the outer pot.
in dry earth
my sallow geranium
drowning from too much rain
what I do23
High up in the stately tulip poplar trees their tulip-shaped
blooms are open and have begun to fall. Chartreuse outside with pale
yellow inner petals -- each one decorated with a feathery chevron of
orange. Way below them, two of the three pond frogs sit on the rock
borders. If I am feeding the birds on the lawn behind them, they
continue to sit: this day one has a foreleg and chin atop the other,
protectively. They are quite small yet. But if I approach to skim
blossom litter off the surface of the pond
squeaks and into the water they dive. By summer, when they are more
accustomed to my presence, I can put my hands into the water and
they merely sit and watch, unperturbed, either from a pond edge rock
or on the fern bank, on a lily pad or
one toe on a tulip
baby frog floats into sunshine24
Down at the raised
bed with some Miracle-gro solution for the chili peppers, a
sunbathing baby skink with its cobalt blue whiptail scoots into a
split in the railroad tie. Out front, with more blue juice for the
newly planted annuals, past my ear is that unmistakable
buzz-whirr and I pause to see a hummy taking quick sips at
the feeder dangling from a redbud branch.
Slowly through spring
they return to visit and I cannot help but marvel at the lengths to
which these teeny creatures go to call on me for a while. Mexico?
Costa Rica? to Forest, Virginia -- to my garden, to
this particular feeder -- from late spring almost until
October when they depart.
step by step
with my heart25
Every few days I boil water and add granulated sugar
in a 3 or 4 to 1 mix for them. No need for red coloring, special
mixes. My feeder is a dark green tin lantern that looks like the old
gaslights. Wound in lily of the valley tin flowers and leaves, at
each of its four sides is a feeding station with a round floret,
deep pink edged and white-centered. Suspended within the lantern, a
long upsidedown bottle for sugar water. The hummies come right to
these tin flowers where they sip the sweet brew. Their springtime
return is related to the bloom time of the azaleas. Reds are their
favorite colors in flowers and that is where their favored natural
food source is. So it is the natural surrounds that first
This mild sunny day,
I open the casement windows in the living room and on a breeze in
floats the scent of purple heliotrope, the most delicate sweet
imaginable! It is purposefully placed right below in two big gray
planters that flank a bench. One has heliotrope with ivy, red
impatiens, a sprig of sweet potato vine which has chartreuse-leaves,
and in the center, a one-foot Hass avocado tree, grown from a pit I
rooted in the basement over the winter. The other has heliotrope,
ivy and red impatiens too, plus a starter sprig of rosemary. . .
Long ago I set three rosemary plants out back by the south
wall just to fill in behind the elephantine forsythia for an
easy-access herb. I could not believe how huge they grew. Too big
for the space -- again! So after a few years, I dug them out
-- but caring for them gave me a poem:
after watering it
In England, I was surprised after my experience of
it here, to see they use rosemary as a hedge. And some is in the
enclosed medieval Little Cloister Garden at the back of Westminster
Abbey, "for remembrance."
There are periods when the
garden, like some lovely lady, has disheveled moments. Is best left
unobserved to make repairs. Last night a great thunderstorm blew in.
The house for an hour after midnight blue-lit as though by strobe
lights, bombarded by rolling thunder vibrating the very walls, rain
clear, clean. Despite the violence in the night, no serious harm
seems evident. So I go to put in a couple more plants in the wet
earth of the rock garden. After rain is a good time for this. And
for pulling weeds -- in this case, my vinca is making a move on the
rock garden and I tore a load out before I dug a single hole. The
soil I dig is what it is: wet clay! But the disturbance of
my poaching spade did not harm a glistening earthworm that wiggled
loose. I am always glad to see one when I am planting. It seems to
augur all will be well. In went the
lavender, and in went its worm to work the soil. In went a yellow
lantana. And it, too, had a worm.
At the pond, however, good
news and bad: big bronze frog has just arrived. After heavy rains,
uphill from the stream he hops to stay a while at the pond with the
three small frogs. He sits majestically on a rock staring into the
pond. My eyes follow his. The gully-washer in the night has scoured
a load of water out, iris spikes toppled over, lily leaves askew.
White petunias beside the pond, limp wet handkerchiefs. The pond
level is down half a foot! Water muddy as café au lait. It,
too, is not its usual beautiful self.
Nor are the earliest
flowering spring shrubs. Their glorious display is drawing to an
end. Petals lose color, sog up or get brown, fall. Some need
trimming back. The evergreens, luxuriating in all the rain, are
badly in need of a trim, too. So much wild new growth.
And the garden shifts into
another mode . . . Though most annuals are in for summer, adding
their spots of color, they are still small but will really burgeon
in June. Roses, however, have just gone and done it! All the hot
pink Knockout roses are in full bloom, yellow tea roses also have
popped beside the porch.
And at the back door Graham Thomas presents its
first yellow roses. Even the pink sweetheart roses in the rock
garden are in bloom.
characters in this play drift in and out from scene to scene. The
sets alter, the costumes switch, the makeup runs a bit, the lighting
never the same from one moment to the next, with the resultant mood
changes. What is merely attractive by ordinary daylight dazzles when
the sun comes from behind a cloud. As though the house lights have
gone up and the play begins. But late afternoon sunlight bringing
long shadows and jewel tones with it, or early morning sunlight
scattered across the length of the dewy gardens -- these create the
most magic for me. By evening, just before this stage goes dark, the
many greens in the woods become flat, and this matte finish assumes
a beautiful solemnity of its own.
not a shadow left
the pines . . .
I bed begonias into darkness27
Not only can I have
my garden as a feast for the eyes -- I can eat some of it, too!
Tonight I shall pass by the wet-again flowers and stop at the pot of
cilantro, scissors in hand. Some will go into my Nue pud tao
jaiw (Spicy beef with black bean sauce). In my new adventure
into Thai recipes I note cilantro is the key herb used. Previously,
I had only used it for Mexican food. A rib eye steak, onion, garlic,
peanut oil, shiitake mushrooms [dried ones work fine: just soak in
boiling water a few minutes to plump them up, then squeeze out] ,
soy sauce, black bean sauce, baby corn, jaggery (a sweetener made of
palm flower sugar -- but a hint of brown sugar is its
substitute) and chopped fresh cilantro! All this over
medium egg noodles garnished with my homegrown herb.
First I used cilantro in
Tod man moo sai boo (probably because of the name). Little
crab and ground pork and red chili fritters seasoned with cilantro
and, instead of scallions I didn't have, I cut chives from the
garden, avoiding their tough stems topped with pale purple flowers.
With it, a delicious sweet and sour dipping sauce with minced red
onions and cucumbers. Then I made Stir-fried shrimp with garlic
Gung ga tiem, also seasoned with a handful of cilantro and
served with egg-fried jasmine rice with chives and cilantro. Green
chicken curry Gang kaiw wan gai , yet another dish with
lots of cilantro. And the hotter red curry version. With it iced tea
and my fresh mint.
The first hot
chilling the tea,
slicing the lemons.28
All the flower gardens and shrubs have been
primarily my domain. So my food gardening energy is limited to a few
specialty things these days. I do plan to put nasturtium seeds in
the raised beds. Those, too, have peppery edible leaves and stems
and flowers, and I don't remember the deer or other critters
On a bank
by the pond, small sweet woodruff among the ferns and vinca is
almost ready. Sprigs of its dainty white flowers atop lacy spiraling
leaves go into iced white wine for the seasonal treat, "May wine."
moves rapidly toward summer. It is time for the first pruning of the
shrubs. And the sweeping up after. A shared task with my oldest
grandson. As he trims the holly hedge out from under branches heavy
with buds of "the jingle-bell tree," we both pause to indulge in
remembrance. For the longest time, I could not identify this tree
whose graceful spreading low limbs and copious spring bloom provided
all the grandchildren the only climbing tree on the entire
property: nowhere could a little one get a toehold on tall pines or
tulip poplars or full-grown red maples. Even as babies, we would
lift them into it and plunk them on a branch "Hold tight!"
and watch their faces glow as they looked out over our heads to
a different world where they reigned supreme.
One time, the eldest had
taken his favorite rope up into the tree, tied himself in, and then
after a while of daydreaming, needed to answer a bodily function.
But he could not untie himself and called for help. "Never
mind the rope. Just do it!" and his mother and I laughed
as, utterly humiliated, he wet himself. After he was freed, I hosed
him and toweled him off and gave him dry clothes to wear. Twenty-one
now, he put down the electric hedge trimmer and hoisted himself into
the tree once more.
So it is
the climbing tree of memories. At last I learned it is a Japanese
snowbell tree. For the next week or so, the air surrounding the
house and through every open window will be redolent with its
for a while, the
a thousand snowbells open
to the night air29
Given all the major
tragedies that fill the days of the world in which we live, I
suppose it is somewhat preposterous to speak with great sadness of
the loss of nine old goldfish in a small pond, but I
Last fall I was startled
-- and quite
excited -- to see an enormous gray and white bird fly low past the
porch and land neatly beside the goldfish pond. By sundown,
when the first visit of this great blue heron was over I could find
none of my fish. My first thought, they are hiding. In
years past, the smaller green heron had paid a call. Three days he
was here standing on one of the large flat rocks that edge the pond.
And then he was gone. Lily leaves were shredded showing where he'd
tried to spear my goldfish. Terrorized, they hid deep down in the
muddied water, or amid the water iris stalks. Within a day or so
when the water cleared, they resurfaced when I called to them. So I
assumed that was the case this time, too, though the water was not
muddy. But next day there was such a strange stillness, an emptiness
and I had to accept that this time all my fish were gone.
I could not get over
imagining what it must have been like as he struck over and over
again and the fish, living together here for so many years with
little to disturb their idyllic life, must have panicked under the
repeated assault as they watched their own being taken into that
For several days,
the bird returned, stood waiting motionless by the pond -- watching for more. And then, convinced that
there were none, lifted its gray-blue self with slow powerful
strokes into the blue sky and was
So it was that this
spring, as soon as the water temperature in the pond warmed up to 45
° I determined I was not going to let one dreadful occurrence thwart
me. I had to buy new fish. Without them, this simply
was not a pond. I know well these creatures, too, may be taken
from me one day. But all life hovers the abyss. I am willing to
trust in the likelihood that these new fish shall get to enjoy a
fine life for however long it lasts. This time, though, I would not
as before select each one carefully for its beauty, its length of
tail, its colors and patterns -- shibunkins were among my lost ones. At the pet
store, I bought the tiniest fish they had: 24 for $2.00 fully aware
that by attrition or assault, I may lose quite a few, if not all. I
did not even look at them as they were scooped into a plastic bag of
water for the ride home.
Yesterday, for the first time this year, life in the fishpond was
restored to normal. The one inch baby fish had laid low in the
deep end of the pond all spring. I would talk to them occasionally
and one brave one would make an appearance and wiggle about, but
then submerge. Obviously, they were not going to feed up at the
surface. So I trusted to their own instinct for survival. As I
skimmed the pond removing more tulip tree petals, one of my
old-timer frogs was splayed out on the water, inches from my
skimmer. Utterly blasé. Another of the old guard, sat on a rock and
And when I got to the deeper end of the pond, I
called to the fish in my usual way. Up came the first from the murky
water. And since it was such a warm and lovely afternoon, I kept
calling to them. Gradually, several more appeared. They had doubled
in size already though what they were eating I could not imagine! I
could even make out distinguishing markings, some had red dots on
white, others were just orange. The more I talked to them, the
friskier they became in the mid-depths swimming this way and that.
Got the fish flakes can and sprinkled a pinch on the water's
surface, called to them again, and sure enough they moved
tentatively upwards into the sunlight to feed. Next day, the same.
And the next. And every day since.
feeding the goldfish
I shall care for them
in years to come. And, without apology, I declare myself already
attached to these tiny creatures who bring me and others such
delight. They, too, will know sun and rain, clouds and fireflies and
moonlight, and the silence beneath the ice come winter. They will
also know whatever passes for passion each spring among the water
iris that sends them flopping and quivering about the pond as they
create new life.
under a new moon
songs float up
from the pines31
Probably what pleases
me most about my various gardens in this woodland, is how they have
become home to other than myself. This new world I've slowly created
has provided ideal habitat for so many creatures from the very ants
who explore the new plants I have brought here. Living amidst them
has given me many of my poems.
I watch the crows come down morning and evening to
sip from the birdbath-on-the-wellhead
or watch them use the railroad ties to walk upon as
they review the raised beds for insects. Doves, too, will plod along
them. Birds will hop up the single-file rock path alongside the pond
to get to the upper pond to drink. I watered a hanging geranium
plant and out flew a startled a wren nesting in it. The little
skinks are always to be found close by the house, living under the
concrete planter of ivy or in the flowerbed at the back wall, or in
crevices in the railroad ties. Lately, a large female appeared
clinging to the inside of the new screen door!
Deer, of course, use
much of the property, feed off the apple tree I planted,
some of the plants and flowers -- since by attrition I have come to
understand their needs and they, mine. I have found my little cat
sleeping in the goddess's 'hat' (really the bowl of the water
fountain she was supposed to have been) or curled up beside the old
iron monkey lantern that sits on a rock by the waterfall -- as though they were best friends! Her
favorite vantage point from which she planned her daily adventures
and scoped out possible enemies, was the column of gods and
For absolute privacy, she would saunter up to the
bench garden and climb onto the bench for a snooze. Once, to my
horror, she brought a baby bunny to that patio and then, tossing it
into the air over and over again, turned it into a bunny
The goldfish and
frogs make the pond. No matter the natural beauty of it, they are
what bring it to life. On rare occasions, a garter snake or water
snake will seek out a small frog or fish. I have pulled one of my
fish out of a garter snake's mouth! Year after year, the dragonflies
use the water iris and the ferns in their prolonged sunny day mating
off the fern tip
he off the iris spear
A tiny concrete bench
I call the elf bench -- no taller than a buttercup -- the jays will
perch on and use as an anvil for cracking sunflower seeds. Sometimes
there is the delight of seeing a squirrel or a cardinal just sitting
on it! The squirrels drink at the pond edge or at the upper small
pond after their dinner of seeds. Blackbirds and robins will bathe
in the shallow upper ponds or in the birdbath. And of course the
population of birds has vastly increased because I feed them year
round. Many a chickadee has been born in the birdhouse that hangs
from the dogwood tree by the raised beds.
In evening sunlight I
can tell where the wrens roost as I watch them disappear high up in
the arborvitae tree. A few wiggles and they settle in for the night.
Jays and cardinals always perch in the apple tree as they go back
and forth to the bird feeder before their later bedtime. It is like
a grand hotel to them. As is the viburnum by the porch which they
use as a vantage point from which they observe their neighbors'
activities, as sanctuary when something alarms them, and more
usually, as their beak-wiping place in between snacks. Cardinals and
chickadees will pick its tiny early flower buds. All the birds eat
its berries soon as they redden. The Japanese maple, planted when
the pines fell, is also a way station to the birds feeding near the
pond. As is the huge Leland cypress behind it. Butterflies have spun
their chrysalises amid the parsley or other vegetables in the raised
bed garden. I have found a cardinal nest in the jasmine arbor. Jays
and cardinals also nest in the hollies by the house some years, and
I could watch the baby birds grow and fledge. Praying mantis come to
the rock garden, and the endangered honey bees feasted here last
month in great numbers on the tiny spring flowers of the holly
hedge. Southern bufo toads and box turtles are welcome guests. One
toad came year after year to 'live' on the front porch under a box
turtle shell I put in a shady spot there. A full-grown turtle was in
the rose bed at the back of the house yesterday. Gone today.
almost (down the path
the pouring rain) alone
The few paths I've
made through the woods, I have watched birds, cats, dogs walk upon
rather than wander through the woods alongside them. A green snake
lolled in the viburnum by the porch. One year, a newly awakened
copperhead nestled down by the bridge in the daffodils. All sorts of
spiders, of course, regularly avail themselves of everything they
can build a web upon connecting house to deutzia or rhododendron by
the porch. There, the golden orb spins its special web with its
tell-tale zipper closing. Funnels of the garden spiders tie together
the shrubs and plants in the rock garden to catch their prey.
More rain in the night
this wet spring. Over six inches have fallen this month! Learning
from the beach-umbrella-loving tomato plant which already has its
first yellow blossoms, I have protected my cosmos seedlings from the
heavy downpours. Brought the wide bowl in which I planted them onto
the porch. They are four inches tall now. They go back out into the
sunshine today -- as long as it lasts.
I put the coarse
nasturtium seeds directly into the raised beds the other rainy day.
Tough, they will make it or they won't. I am not worried about them.
And sure enough, there were a couple of cosmos from a past year amid
the chives and chili peppers, getting ready for summer's bloom. I
celebrate those two re-seeded flowers. And it gives me hope the new
ones I shall put out there soon will survive the deer. Four young
ones were here last night, being very good, never touching anything
but the apple tree leaves and under-leaves of trees at the edge of
the woods and the grass. Never approaching too close to the house. I
need only call to them Shoo! and in an
instant, they will high tail it out of here. Otherwise, if I merely
say in a sing-song, "Hell-o, deer. I see you," they lift
their heads, direct their ears to my voice and then continue about
I go out to
deadhead the Mr. Lincoln rose which has dropped its petals only to
discover as I worked my way down the garden nipping spent flowers,
the other Mr. Lincoln has produced two blooms. It is beside the
euonymous hedge and usually it grows five feet tall in order to
capture sunshine for its blossoms. Heretofore, it only produced its
blooms above the hedge. What a surprise to discover two gorgeous
roses down low and in the shade! Every plant has its own secrets,
its own timetables. I've had this rose for many years and never did
it bloom three feet up from the soil!
At the pond, where I
remove the spent water iris bloom, thinking with resignation this
was a poor year for iris, I find I have misjudged again: a second
bud appears. Purple salvia spikes beside Tweedle Dee (the second
golden arborvitae) have completed their first protracted bloom. I
cut them back and now the Canterbury bells beside them jut forth,
ready to blossom all down their stems.
Asian lilies too, have produced their buds. I remove
the last wire cage off the hostas which have not been chewed at all.
In no time, the nasturtium seeds have sprouted. The cosmos seedlings
will go into the raised bed with them tomorrow. And a new act
follows the old. I wait for the purple clematis in the cottage
garden to burst forth. It is covered in drooping buds.
my robe's edge wet
Summer's more idle
days are not far off: in my nightgown, watering the gardens early in
the morning, deadheading and weeding before the heat builds. Filling
the hummingbird feeder. And, if I can
remember, pushing aside the parachuted spider strand that
always runs between the two hollies that flank the brick walk as I
go back and forth at my chores. Then, indoors for a shower and clean
clothes. At last -- looking as though I've done nothing at all --
languor on the screened porch. An iced tea or coffee and some
homemade confection or other. Good books to read. The hum of the
overhead fans. Feeding the goldfish, the birds. Simple suppers to
the sound of the waterfalls and the dinner-time birds.
My faithful mowers are here, rushing to finish
before the next rain begins. Sun gives way to clouds, a tiny
sprinkle, then sunshine again and a smile on the mower's face as he
waves to me riding by and points up to the sun. I nod and smile back
with a thumb's up, and pour Miracle-Gro on the mauve pink clematis
1. The Penguin Book of Japanese
Verse, Copyright ©Geoffrey Bownas and Anthony Thwaite
2. AV © 2009
3. summer thunder
4. AV © 2009
5. Roadrunner August
6. AV © 2009
7. Roadrunner August
8. Landfall Anthology MET
9. Canadian Writers Journal
10. Haiku, ed. Peter
Washington, Alfred A. Knopf Everyman's Library
11. A 2nd Flake
12. A Long Year
13. summer thunder
14. Landfall Anthology 2007
15. Haiku Novine March
16. One Potato Two Potato
17. AV © 2009
18. AV © 2009
19. AV © 2009
20. AV © 2009
21. A 2nd Flake
23. AV © 2009
24. Haiku Novine 2005
25. Landfall Anthology MET
26. summer thunder 2004,
Mann Library 2009
27. AV © 2009
28. A 2nd Flake
29. AV © 2009
30. One Potato Two Potato
31. summer thunder 2004,
Mann Library 2009
32. AV © 2009
33. One Potato Two Potato
Etc 1991, Haiku Moment ed. Bruce Ross
34. AV © 2009
35 photographs: © 2009 Jennifer Virgil Gurchinoff.
Rights Reserved. Reproduction in any form is strictly
1 photograph, "Frog," © 2009 Chad
Gurchinoff. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction in any form is
Photograph of Jennifer Virgil
Gurchinoff © 2009 by Richard Gurchinoff. All rights Reserved.
Reproduction in any form is strictly prohibited.
collaboration again features the work of poet-mom
Anita Virgil and photographer-daughter Jennifer Virgil
Anita Virgil lives in Forest,
Virginia. She is a past president of the Haiku Society
of America. She was a member of the three-person HSA
Committee on Definitions which included Harold G.
Henderson and William J. Higginson. As a member of the
Book Committee for A Haiku Path (HSA, Inc. 1994),
she edited the two chapters on Definitions.
Books: A 2nd Flake
(1974), ONE POTATO TWO POTATO ETC (1991, Peaks
Press), on my mind, an Interview of Anita Virgil by
Vincent Tripi (3rd edition, Press Here, 1993),
Pilot (1996, Peaks Press), A Long Year
(2002, Peaks Press), and summer thunder, a
CD (2004, Peaks Press).
Her poetry and essays and
book reviews have appeared in all major haiku magazines
and anthologies for 39 years. Most recently, she
appears in the anthologies Where Dogs Dream
(2003, MQP London), Haiku for Lovers (2003, MQP
London), Haiku (2003, Alfred A. Knopf Everyman's
Library edition), Haiku Mind by Patrician Donegan
(2008, Shambhala Publications, Inc.). Poems and essays
have also appeared on the Internet and in magazines in
Yugoslavia, Croatia, Slovenia, Russia and
In 2007 she wrote a blog on
Andy Virgil, her first husband, for Today's
Inspiration, an immensely popular blog initiated by
Leif Peng that is devoted to illustration and commercial
art. In 2009 she was requested to be guest-editor for
another artist who was a friend of Andy's. That has just
been completed and is in the process of being produced.
It will appear soon.
Of her work, Anita writes: I
always had and still have a single goal for haiku: that
it be poetry, that it sit comfortably in its uniqueness
amid the literature of the world. There is no reason for
it not to since the best artists speak "to our capacity
for delight and wonder, to the sense of mystery
surrounding our lives: to our sense of pity, and beauty,
and pain." *
*Nigger of the
Narcissus by Joseph Conrad
Gurchinoff is a freelance photographer in Forest,
Virginia. She holds an AS degree in photography and is
an active member in the Blue Ridge Photographic Arts
Her work has hung in several
shows sponsored by the Blue Ridge Photographic Arts
Society and a recent national juried show.
Of her approach to
photography, she writes: "I look for and see the unusual
in the usual—exploring different angles and aspects of
Persons wishing to obtain a
print of any of Jennifer's photographs can contact
Jennifer by email: email@example.com.
Copyright 2009: Simply Haiku