Pear Blossoms


The pear tree is blossoming.

Gift of a friend, the stone Buddha sits zazen,
prayer beads clutched in his chubby fingers.
Through snow, icy rain, the riot of spring flowers,
he gazes forward to the city in the distance—always

the same bountiful smile upon his portly face.
Why don’t I share his one-minded happiness?
The pear blossom, the crimson-petaled magnolia,
filling me instead with a mixture of nostalgia

and yearning. He’s laughing at me, isn’t he?
The seasons wheeling despite my photographs
and notes, my desire to make them pause.
Is that the lesson? That stasis, this holding on,

is not life? Now I’m smiling, too—the late cherry,
its soft pink blossoms already beginning to scatter;
the trillium, its three-petaled white flowers
exquisitely tinged with purple as they fall.

Ted Kooser – Poet Laureate (2004-2006)

2009 Gardenpalooza

The before picture.  (No after photo expected anytime soon.)

The before picture. (No after photo expected soon.)

All of the cool kids seem to be blogging about their gardens and landscaping plans for this coming growing season and many of them profess to have hideous eyesores of yards wherein Something Must Be Done. Janis has gone so far as to propose a competition for the ugliest before picture. I’ve warned them that I will win hands down.

I suspect they think I’m exaggerating. I’m trying to suppress my shame and summon courage to post a recent photo to be used as a “before” – but besides the horrific embarrassment of such, I’m concerned there will be so little difference between the “before” and “after” shots that I’ll have to move out-of-state to cope with the social snubbing that will surely result if I manage to survive the “before” shot. As I said in a comments section somewhere, I already feel like the geeky girl in off-brand jeans and Payless tennis shoes sitting in the back corner of the cafeteria. While I have often been decidedly uncool, I have never felt particularly uncool. It’s really uncomfortable as well as a conundrum.

I know what to do. I mostly know how to do it. The problem is one of cash flow, time and memories. For years, I ranted about how I never seemed to have money and time at the same time with the implication being I did have one or the other. Right now, I have neither.

I am plotting and planning my 2009 Gardenpalooza, but my methodology is significantly different. There are no seed catalogs, landscaping companies, or brawny men involved. There is me, a wheelbarrow with a flat tire, an aging lawnmower, and a fair amount of determination.

I blame my parents. I was not adequately prepared as a child for the perils of my genetic makeup.

My parents garden. My grandparents gardened. My great-grandparents had a huge commercial farm and apple orchard. I, so I said, couldn’t see the fun of mucking around in the dirt. But genes will tell in the long run. Scientists don’t rightly know what flips genes in the “off” position into the “on” position but they’re grant writing up a storm to figure it out.

I have quite a bit of land in bad need of landscaping. Years ago, when the world was still new, I surveyed the gravel, clay, fallen tree branches, construction debris, and broken lawn mower from my kitchen window.  I decided This Will Not Do.

How hard can it be? (Veteran gardeners will recognize this as famous last words. Poverty-stricken gardeners will cover their eyes in memory of the horror. I’m sorry, but I have a tale to tell. Don’t read if you’re fearful your PTSD will kick in.)

I raked. I threw stuff away. I burned brush. I got a shovel and tried to dig in wet clay.

This, I said, is hard work.


You just can't call this soil. You can't.

My dad ambled up the hill and said, “What are you doing?”

I told him. He scuffed his boot in my clay/grave/bedrock and said, “Good luck.” 

I borrowed his wheelbarrow and dumped tons of chopped up leaves (which I did with the lawnmover I had to fix first) to mix with the clay. I bought Rodale’s Organic Gardening. I tossed in bags of lime.

No good.

Even I could tell nothing was going to grow in that mess.

The husband asked what I wanted for Mother’s Day. I told him I wanted a load of topsoil.

Do y’all have any idea how much dirt there is in 10 tons of topsoil? Do you also know that you will win Mother of the Year if you have a small child and you have 10 tons of topsoil dumped in a heap in your yard? I had urchins in towel capes scrambling up and down the mountain of dirt playing King of the Hill. I lost Mother of the Year when it dawned on Chef Boy ‘R Mine the hill was disappearing for “mama’s flowers”.

One wheelbarrow at a time, I moved that dirt – by myself. The ex made it clear this was my stupid idea and not his which was kind of fair. I didn’t help him with his stupid ideas either.

Being A Poor Person of Considerable Financial Plight, we popped our wad on topsoil so there wasn’t any money for landscape timbers and whatnot. So I dragged deadfall small trees out of the woods to use in lieu. After the grueling work of leveling a 30x 50 plot, I returned to mixing in the chopped leaves. I read some books and talked to the County Extension Agent and realized this still wasn’t going to do.

I heard through the grapevine about a horse farm that would give me all the manure I wanted, but I had to go get it. I borrowed Dad’s truck and went to the farm with a shovel. (The wreck on the way is another story that I may or may not recount at a later date.)

Do you have any idea how much crap you can put in the bed of a full sized pick up? A lot.

I dug in manure and leaves.

Finally, well past planting time, I was ready to go.

I stood out there one morning, exhausted and poor, and scattered zinnia seeds I’d found priced at 10 packages for a buck with an expiration date years gone by. I also tossed in some grass seed in the middle of the plot.

In spite of all this work, I still had a plot of garden space that was not plant friendly. The guy who originally built this place did so after blasting the top of the hill, trucking in tons of gravel so he could park semitrucks up here. I sit on bedrock. What little soil formation that occurred during normal geologic processes was compacted by big rigs. At most, I had provided any future plants a total of 6 inches for root development.

Those zinnias germinated and grew and bloomed their fool heads off. So did the grass. I had never been so awed by the miracle of life since my son’s birth in 1985. I remember standing at the kitchen window that started it all gaping in astonishment at the riot of color made even more colorful by a misty rain and clouds settled into the holler. I about died of the beauty.

The mania was on.

Chef Boy 'R Mine

Chef Boy 'R Mine

Over the years, I dug and worked, poor for most of it, on the kitchen garden – developing it into a not unimpressive (though not worthy of Southern Living) cottage garden. It was my meditation, my exercise, my hobby, my stress relief, my what-do-you-do-for-fun answer. I clocked hours in the garden. Eventually, lawn furniture appeared and the entire family lost hours sitting there for morning coffee or sitting there at dusk with a cold beer and blues wafting from the stereo through that same kitchen window. As the garden became Truly A Thing Of Beauty, we spent more time in the garden than we did in the house.

For a lot of reasons, too complicated to explain, the kitchen garden has gone wild. In the period that I had money, but no time I would frown a lot when I stood at the window. The past few years, I’ve attempted to tame it, but the wild raspberry and wild rose that have invaded it have teamed up with poison ivy to make working in it a Bad Thing.

I am resolved that this year, even if I end up in the ER with severe thorn wounds and poison ivy, I will reclaim the garden. I will do so if I have to do it by flashlight. It’s not going to be easy or even mildly difficult. It’s going to be a righteous bitch. A sane person would burn it and start over. But it’s an heirloom garden so to speak – my great-grandmother’s irises are in there as are my best friend’s daylilies. My mom and I dug the irises out of Mother’s garden the day we took her to the nursing home. I dug the daylilies out of my best friend’s garden the day we buried her.

The roses were gifts. The creeping juniper came from a friend and my son and I dug the dogwood out of the forest one unseasonably cold fall day. My grocery store clerk gave me some stuff as did my drycleaner. Students at the university brought in “extra plants” from their parents’ gardens. I can’t remember what year it was, but I planted 100s of daffodils that multiplied until they were so crowded they didn’t bloom well.

So. I can’t just burn it to ground level and start over. Garden reclamation is going to be ugly. Expect whining.

While I’m doing that, I also have the patio garden to finish. It was the same bedrock mess. I’ve got one small area that still needs topsoil. I’m hoping to put vegetables in there. Or at least tomatoes. And the garlic – an ex-boss of mine gave me some heirloom garlic that her neighbors’ great-grandmother brought from Italy when they immigrated here. I’m told it’s the best garlic on the planet. Besides finishing the patio garden, I may have to re-do a lot of it. Annie, the rescue Labrador retriever, had a severe psychosis about plants and wreaked her havoc during drought. Coupled with that, this winter has been very harsh. I suspect I’ve lost most of the plantings I’ve put in the past 3 years. I will be very sad. I actually spent big money on some of this stuff.

I am now, once again, a Poverty Stricken Person, so all of this has to be done very cheap. Expect not just whining, but Major Whining.

The Winter of My . . .um. . .

in time of all sweet things

in time of all sweet things

Since West Virginians have just been deemed the unhappiest people in the United States by a bunch of flatlanders with a questionable methodology, [see Buzzardbilly’s excellent commentary and rant about the Forbes article here.] I feel like a traitor admitting to anything less than sheer giddiness, but it’s been a long winter.

As my favorite weather guy will tell you, we’ve had significant cold, ice, wind, sleet, cold, plagues, mayhem, cold, heating bills and cold that started early and is likely to go on for awhile yet. If I remember right, if we see even flurries in April we will have had seven consecutive months of such nonsense which will be some kind of record or near record or something we haven’t seen in years or some such rot. It’s too depressing to think about, so I’m not.

[Having a favorite weather guy is kind of pitiful. I’ve become one of those people who are hyper-vigilant about the forecast, the office authority on projected precipitation, and way too informed about the effect of barometric pressure on mood. Someone told me this is a sure sign that I am now an old woman. Like that’s a news flash.]

The good news that has provoked some gleeful girlish giddiness is that we’ve had a lovely period of faux spring.

It couldn’t have come a moment too soon. Just when I was getting ready to adopt a bunch of feral cats, move into my bed permanently, and, otherwise, settle into extreme (even for me) eccentricity, we got a taste of spring.   I knew it was a false start and I knew there was more cold to come, but I had tangible proof that we weren’t locked into this miserable weather pattern forever.

It started last week.

By Saturday, I was in the yard recording my wind chimes (see extreme eccentricity statement above) and by Tuesday I was dining al fresco in short sleeves at a new Italian restaurant. The respite from listening to the furnace kick on and off and hearing ka-ching wasn’t the only benefit. My vitamin D levels are restored, my equanimity is less unbalanced, and I even sung along to the radio.

I’m not being trite when I say, “Hope springs eternal.” I’m making a bad pun which is no less egregious, but I’ve had a bad winter – cut me some slack.   It’s been a right horrible winter after a right horrible couple of years and spring is the most hopeful time of year.  [November 4th was epic, but it was epic because it was unusual.  Spring happens year after year even if we’re convinced we’re trapped in Narnia and the evil queen is in power.]

But best of all, my daffodils are blooming.

Daffodils make me giddy.

I spotted shoots in Huntington a few weeks back and the 2009 Hyper-Vigilant Daffodil Watch began. It’s always been true that I am two weeks behind Huntington for spring blooming and greening. After a week or so, I trundled out to the travesty that I call a garden and, sure enough, there were sprouts. (And great rejoicing echoed in the holler.) I’ve checked them compulsively ever since.

I do this year after year. The first one acquired the first bud on Saturday. Every year, a few will develop buds and then torture me for weeks before blooming. Then like a symphonic finale, the others will bloom in a crescendo and it’s all over and done with just in time for the Oh-My-God-Would-You-Look-At-The-Redbud-This-Year Season which imperils my car insurance rates and ensures a tardy arrival at the office since I frequently miss my exit for gaping at lavender dotted hills.

Wednesday, I had to run a business errand in Huntington. I drove from the office, past Ritter Park, and through a lovely residential section while rocking out to the radio. The trip to my destination was otherwise uneventful. On the return trip forty minutes later (after an unplanned excursion through an unfamiliar part of Cabell County accounted for by my abysmal spatial skills), I retraced the first part of my journey only to discover blooming magnolias, forsythia and daffodils. DAFFODILS!

Had I plunked my butt down on a bench in Ritter Park for that 40 minutes, I could have watched it happened. (Although whiny, I am a dedicated employee, besides I am not psychic – otherwise I would have certainly been sprawled on a park bench.) I set my watch, marked my calendar, and began planning for my daffodils blooms. Two weeks…check…

Much to my shock, one day later I found daffodils blooming in my yard. Only two of them, but it didn’t take two weeks and two is better than none and THE DAFFODILS ARE BLOOMING. I flitted around the garden like a deranged paparazzo taking pictures and ripping my clothes on wild rose gone wild. I was quite happy (but did Forbes call me? Noooooooooooooooooo).

Having grown up in the tropics, I was 15 before I saw a daffodil. I thought they were pretty spiffy, but it wasn’t until I was an adult (in the legal sense) in Milwaukee, that I saw them blooming in the snow. Great Aunt Gertrude’s Girdle!  What a marvel that is to see.  My love affair with daffodils officially began.

After I’d lived in the barn for a few years, I bought a bag of 150 daffodils and planted them. I didn’t know they multiplied.

They were so crowded that I thinned them two years ago, but like many of my projects I never got around to planting the ones I removed. So, while my daffodils are greatly reduced in number, the blooms this year are spectacular.

The first bloom always summons e. e. cummings to the talk radio show in my head.

remember grow

remember grow

in time of daffodils (who know
the goal of living is to grow)
forgetting why, remember how

in time of lilacs who proclaim
the aim of waking is to dream,
remember so (forgetting seem)

in time of roses (who amaze
our now and here with paradise)
forgetting if, remember yes

in time of all sweet things beyond
whatever mind may comprehend,
remember seek (forgetting find)

and in a mystery to be
(when time from time shall set us free)
forgetting me, remember me

Bolstered by a taste of warm weather and blooming daffodils that will be even more spectacular if wrapped in snow, I am not the least bit distressed by tonight’s forecast for cold and an inch or two of the white stuff. I’m not happy that the furnace is ka-chinging, but I am happy. The daffodils are blooming and all is right with my world – the goal of living is to grow. . . forgetting me, remember me.