We Are Not Alone

This is a summary of today’s post.

  • Wherever there is a gardener with a plant mania, there is usually a long-suffering spouse somewhere nearby and nowhere is this more true than a mania for tropicals. But too, we realize that it is good not be alone in our appreciation for the beauty that is all around us.
  • 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 “What I’m Reading” section (button on right), we are reviewing The Rural Life, by Verlyn Klinkenborg. His writing fuses together the transcendental writing of a great poet and philosopher with the practical, no-nonsense outlook of an experienced farmer/rancher. For people who do not know the rural life, he opens it up to them with passion, authenticity and intimate beauty.
  • Are you a runner and do you like to go for long runs in unusual places? Today, I am talking about some of my best runs in exotic places — Bahrain to Santa Monica, Calgary to Karachi.  Check it out, under the caption “Personal Snapshot: Rave Runs” (button on right)!

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Last week, precisely on the equinox, someone flipped the switch on the celestial thermostat from “heat” to “cool” for our part of the northern hemisphere, and that was the end of that for summer. Twenty degrees dropped out of the day overnight. We opened our windows and the hard-working air conditioners finally got a rest; we sleep now with our windows open and the comforter pulled up. I have decidedly mixed feelings about this. The air, of course, is deliciously fresh and crisp, and it has a sparkle and clarity to it that are truly wonderful. The garden has snapped back to life and lost much of its late-summer droopiness. But ah, I do love an eighty-degree day; that must be the temperature every day in heaven, I think.

“Nearby in the oval bed, there is a large patch of purple phlox blooming late and looking very well with the yellow of the helianthus.”

“Nearby in the oval bed, there is a large patch of purple phlox blooming late and looking very well with the yellow of the helianthus.”

Looking on the bright side, the garden is still producing some amazing color. The helianthus are particularly fine this year, with big sprays of yellow fountains erupting out of all six of the four-foot-tall tuteurs I made for them, and I don’t think they have ever looked better. Nearby in the oval bed, there is a large patch of purple phlox blooming late and looking very well with the yellow of the helianthus. I put together two great bouquets for the house this weekend, though there is not a lot in the late garden to work with. In the kitchen, we have a big mass of purple asters as a base with two-foot-long sprays of yellow helianthus and purple phlox coming out of them. In our bedroom, we have a mix of mauve and purple phlox with an orange and a peach dahlia, coral carnations and a peach-colored rose; the peach and mauve and pink are a great combination and they make a lovely patch of intense color.

The asters and sedum look well together, especially with some cleome growing nearby.

The asters and sedum look well together, especially with some cleome growing nearby.

I am pretty much caught up with garden chores; thank goodness for that, because I feel I am coming down with a rotten, early autumn cold, and I am feeling rather sorry for myself. I’m told by the women in my household that men tend to be babies when they are ill, so I’ll just keep my head down and quietly take my special cold remedy. It is a secret that comes to me from my mother, who is something of a famous medicine woman, or bruja, as they are called in the southwest where she lives. You put the contents of a packet of Emergen-C and two Alka-Seltzer tablets in a glass of water and drink it while it is foaming. Do this every couple of hours at the onset of the cold, and its severity will be greatly lessened. If you are lucky enough to have a steam shower, spend as much time as you can in the steam, too, and you will soon be right again. Or you can just suffer the old-fashioned way, as most of mankind does.

“Abelia is everywhere in its best and fullest bloom of the summer, I see, starting with the lovely old specimens of this fine creature that we have by our front porch.”

“Abelia is everywhere in its best and fullest bloom of the summer, I see, starting with the lovely old specimens of this fine creature that we have by our front porch.”

Anyway, as this cold formula was doing its job, I consoled myself by taking Cosimo for a long, rambling walk around our town, to patrol the front yards of our neighbors and see what they are thinking and doing. Gardeners are nosy by nature, and love to poke about everyone else’s gardens and yards and see what is going on there, and certainly I am no exception to that rule.

“Crape myrtles are everywhere in bloom at this time of year too…”

“Crape myrtles are everywhere in bloom at this time of year too…”

Abelia is everywhere in its best and fullest bloom of the summer, I see, starting with the lovely old specimens of this fine creature that we have by our front porch. I think of them as the-birds-and-the-bees bushes: their dense and twiggy habit of growth makes a perfect habitat for small birds, and their heavy, sweet perfume attracts and intoxicates hundreds of bees at a time, who drunkenly navigate their heady blossoms in late summer when other food is relatively hard for them to find. I have never been stung by a bee, except once as a small boy when I carelessly stepped on one while walking barefoot in clover, so I deserved it really. I have been stung often by the aggressive wasps that live in our stone walls, however, and I don’t care for that very much.

“…his acre of garden is full of them and other tropicals too: hundreds and hundreds of caladiums…”

“…his acre of garden is full of them and other tropicals too: hundreds and hundreds of caladiums…”

Crape myrtles are everywhere in bloom at this time of year too, and as I do every year, I try ineffectually to decide which feature I like best about them: their lovely sprays of watermelon-colored flowers or their handsome, lean, and fastigiate stems. I have never grown them, but have always wanted to. Luckily, there are a lot of them about our town, so I can enjoy them fully without having to find space for them in my own garden.

Elephant ears are very impressive, with their enormous, tropical leaves, but their great size suggests they should be used with caution, as they do not fit in well in every imaginable location. In an open space, as here however, they can look very impressive indeed.

Elephant ears are very impressive, with their enormous, tropical leaves, but their great size suggests they should be used with caution, as they do not fit in well in every imaginable location. In an open space, as here however, they can look very impressive indeed.

I have a neighbor whose taste in gardening is decidedly eccentric. Well, whose isn’t, really? But this guy is a bit round the bend in his enthusiasms and is, I think, a cautionary tale to all of us that the line in the garden between charming individualism and deplorable eccentricity is alarmingly thin. He likes caladiums and canna lilies. So do I, but he has gone too far. You can tell he likes them just by strolling past his yard, because his acre of garden is full of them and other tropicals too: hundreds and hundreds of caladiums and canna lilies, with here and there large elephant ears stuck in and even more enormous gunnera dominating the landscape, stuck in every container imaginable, even a rusted out old Jeep.

I didn’t have a camera with me to capture the floral scene I am describing below, but am throwing in this canna lily picture as a consolation prize and just because it is drop-dead gorgeous.

I didn’t have a camera with me to capture the floral scene I am describing below, but am throwing in this canna lily picture as a consolation prize and just because it is drop-dead gorgeous.

It is a surprising garden indeed, even remarkable, but in the end, not really beautiful. Good heavens, it is amazing to look at, and God only knows what he does with all these tender tropicals in the winter months, as he has no greenhouse. My guess is there is a long-suffering spouse somewhere in the domestic picture, as there usually is with round-the-bend gardening enthusiasts. Somebody like him is a real tonic for us all, making the rest of us feel quite sane and sensible by comparison.

A bit further on, I come across a scene that quite floors me. There is a place where the street crosses a small stream, and long ago, the town fathers erected an ornate iron grill in lieu of a railing where the sidewalk crosses the bridge. It is charming and someone has planted a most astonishing morning glory here so it can scramble up and cover this lovely grill. I have mixed feelings about morning glories. As a boy, I hated them, having spent a lot of time in the broiling sun struggling to dig the weed versions of them, the ones with the ratty little white flowers, out of our tough and rocky western soil. But their delicate, brightly colored cousins, the annual kind you can grow from seed or purchase at garden centers, I find quite lovely. Their colors are intense and luminous, and they have such a graceful climbing and draping habit, giving off a tropical air that is quite charming.

This particular morning glory was most arresting; it was a brilliantly electric indigo. Do you know this color? It lies between purple and blue, but is closer to purple. And this flower is so luminous, it literally seems to be somehow lit from within. Flowers like this need to be looked at intensely and up close, and we ignore for now how odd we look getting right in amongst a plant and putting its blooms right up to our eye. On closer inspection, you find that the throat of this flower is lighter indigo, and deep down in the throat, the color tapers off almost to white with tiny yellow traceries in the throat. That is where the luminosity comes from. The effect is very magical.

The grill was covered with literally hundreds and hundreds of these brilliant indigo trumpets. Seen under the dark bruise of the threatening, Mid-Atlantic sky, it was very arresting. And, as if this loveliness was not enough, some very discerning person had placed a large pot with an enormous, chromatic yellow chrysanthemum right at the base of the morning glory, so that the combination of the crackling yellow mum with the electric luminosity of the morning glory’s indigo was like a bolt of floral lightning. I stood there, transfixed in admiration. Somewhere in this town, I thought, there is a true gardening genius on the loose, with extremely good taste and a very bold eye. We are not alone.

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