Red-Right-Return

This is a summary of today’s post.

  • It’s time for an easy but really cool carpentry project: making simple but elegant frames for floppy or climbing plants in the garden; we all have a lot of them at this stage in the garden’s cycle, and this is an inexpensive why to give the garden a lot of old-world glamour.
  • Also, please check out the photos posted under the button on the right, “Weekly Garden Photos”, for some new and beautiful pictures of what is going on in the busy garden.
  • And in the “Book Reviews” section (button on right), we are reviewing The Princess Casamassima, by Henry James. This is the story of a princess who wants to be a revolutionary, a revolutionary who wants to be a nobleman, and a brilliant novelist who quite loses his way by trying his hand at something he is not really very good at. See what you think about it.
  • Meanwhile, we are also talking about how great it is to head to the beach in August with a good, long book you can really get lost in, and we are reviewing a bunch of mostly English serial novels that will suit any reading taste.  Check it out, under the caption “Personal Snapshot: Beach Reading” (button on right).

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The many successes we have in life, both big and small, help us establish self-esteem and give our lives pleasure and, sometimes, meaning. Gardeners get to experience many successes (failures too, of course), but mostly our gardening successes are on the order of small triumphs. But one day, I had such a big gardening success that the police actually showed up to put a stop to it.

“I had weeded the sidewalk on the corner where the Russian sage was standing up nice and tall, which I thought looked very fresh and fine.”

“I had weeded the sidewalk on the corner where the Russian sage was standing up nice and tall, which I thought looked very fresh and fine.”

I had weeded the sidewalk on the corner where the Russian sage was standing up nice and tall, which I thought looked very fresh and fine. Then the police showed up and, much to my surprise, complained that our handsome and thriving Russian sages were too tall in that spot and were, in fact, a traffic hazard on the corner because people couldn’t see oncoming traffic over them. The upshot of this visitation is that they have to be moved, by order of the local constabulary. Honestly, everyone is a garden critic in this town, but I have never had a visit by the forces of horticultural law and order before. So it looks like they will have to go to the oval bed this weekend, and some more irises will go to the corner in their stead. It would be absurd and annoying to get arrested for growing plants too well.

“…some more irises will go to the corner in their stead. It would be absurd and annoying to get arrested for growing plants too well.”

“…some more irises will go to the corner in their stead. It would be absurd and annoying to get arrested for growing plants too well.”

As a boy, one of my small successes was learning how to spot satellites as they passed over the northern hemisphere. This past week, we were at the beach at Stone Harbor again, and my wife and I and Cosimo took two beach towels to the beach Saturday night to stargaze and had the entire beach to ourselves on a remarkably lovely night. It was the first time Cosimo ever saw the ocean, but he took it in stride, of course, as he does everything. While stargazing, we saw two satellites pass overhead—I had not been able to see any since we left Colorado, because you need a very dark sky and a wide swath of night sky to scan for the fast-moving satellites—and I was so tickled to see them. My father taught me as a kid how to spot them in dark, open western skies, and I always used to hunt for satellites with him. It is funny how the little things like that define and recall the relationships we have with the people we love in this life.

3.Here is Cosimo the Assistant Gardener, who helps to keep rabbits and rodents out of the garden and help search the night skies for fast-moving satellites when we are at the beach.

3. Here is Cosimo the Assistant Gardener, who helps to keep rabbits and rodents out of the garden and help search the night skies for fast-moving satellites when we are at the beach.

Another garden success occurred last week. Actually, it was more of a carpentry success, but it happened in the garden. I decided to do something creative about the aggressive patches of Virginia creeper that we have growing in the ivy, and rather than trying to rip them out every year, as I have been doing, I thought I would instead give them something to clamber up. Observe how the gardener obstinately pursues the wrong path year after year, while nature stands there, patiently and politely pointing out a better way, which the gardener is too dim to see. So my son and I went to the hardware store and got eight treated 1×1’s in eight-foot lengths. Four of these were to be the uprights of two tall frames. Then we got some treated 1×2’s, sawed them into two-foot lengths, and screwed them into the uprights at four feet high and at the top, at eight feet high. The uprights made the corners of a tall, square frame, and the 1×2’s connect the uprights and make the frame sturdy. Then we bought eight milled, ornate finials and screwed them into the four top corners and painted the two frames all black.

Here is the best picture I have of the twin frames I am describing (sorry for the snowy scene), to give you a better idea of what they look like that words convey.

Here is the best picture I have of the twin frames I am describing (sorry for the snowy scene), to give you a better idea of what they look like that words convey.

They look fabulous, like antique tuteurs you would see at Dumbarton Oaks or Sissinghurst Castle. A fun job and surprisingly easy to do. Inexpensive too. I was at a dinner party just the other night, and a woman complimented me on our garden and asked me where on earth did we get those fabulous iron frames and were they terribly expensive. I laughed and said they are just painted wood that my son and I put together; they cost a few dollars each, and we would be glad to make some for her if she would like.

Common ivy can be either friend or foe in the garden, I find, depending on how you use it and how vigilant you are. It can cover a multitude of sins and give off a lovely cool vibe, as here on this mellow old building in Rome. Or it can get totally out of control and romp up trees and walls, cover windows and rip the roof off your house. It’s your choice.

Common ivy can be either friend or foe in the garden, I find, depending on how you use it and how vigilant you are. It can cover a multitude of sins and give off a lovely cool vibe, as here on this mellow old building in Rome. Or it can get totally out of control and romp up trees and walls, cover windows and rip the roof off your house. It’s your choice.

And they do look grand, like cast iron towers, framing an entrance to our driveway. It was my son’s idea, in fact, to pair them off as gateway pillars to define the driveway entrance better and provide a bit of drama there. Unseen by him, I tied the ivy and the creeper to their respective columns, and the next day, he came racing in, breathless, saying, “Dad, Dad, the vines are already growing up the towers!” It charmed me entirely and reminded me of the heavy spring snow we had one year in our Colorado garden that melted so fast on a sunny spring afternoon that the usually dry stream bed in front of our house actually did its duty for once as a storm drainage, with melted runoff from the golf course pouring down it. And seeing it, my then very young son came running into the house hollering, “Dad, Dad, come quick, there’s water in our river!” Just as we can experience our own childhoods in our gardens and in the plants we tend, so we can experience our children though our garden, and our garden through our children, can we not, and it is lovely that it is so.

Virginia creeper is likewise friend or foe, depending on how you use it. Giving it a job like something to climb is a great idea and you will find it very cooperative. Its brilliant colors in autumn are a big plus, but then it does look a bit bare in winter of course. We can’t have everything, can we?

Virginia creeper is likewise friend or foe, depending on how you use it. Giving it a job like something to climb is a great idea and you will find it very cooperative. Its brilliant colors in autumn are a big plus, but then it does look a bit bare in winter of course. We can’t have everything, can we?

Oh, and one more word about the tower frames by the driveway, just to show how goofy gardeners can be, in the unlikely event that the goofiness of gardeners has escaped your notice until now. I trained English ivy up the tower on the left as you come into the driveway and Virginia creeper up the one on the right. That way, in the fall when the Virginia creeper is brilliant red, the tower on the right will signal the way safely home: “red-right-return,” as the sailors say about harbor channel lights. No one will ever notice this nautical whimsy but me, I feel fairly certain, but I know every year it will get a chuckle out of me as I see the brilliantly lit red tower at the right of our driveway. And the secret, profound delight of the gardener in a simple but satisfying success like that is a very fine thing indeed.

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