Monday, September 29, 2008

Comic or lyricist, black or white?

I'm in the last pages of Michael Pollan's Second Nature: A Gardener's Education. Published in 1991, much of what it says is relevant today. If you've read any of Pollan's works, you know he mentions Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Walt Whitman quite a lot . I've come to view Pollan as a kind of modern day mix of all three of those transcendentalists (Whitman never confessed to being involved with the movement, although his poetry often expresses its tenants, especailly "Song of Myself").

In Chapter 10, The Idea of a Gardener, Pollan writes:
Compared to the naturalist, the gardener never fell head over heels for nature. He's seen her ruin his plans too many times for that. The gardener has learned, perforce, to live with her ambiguities- that she is neither all good nor all bad, that she gives as well as takes away. Nature's apt to pull the rug out from under us at any time, to make a grim joke of our noblest intention. Perhaps this explains why garden writing tends to be comic rather than lyrical or elegiac in the way that nature writing usually is: the gardener can never quite forget about the rug underfoot, the possibility of the offstage hook. (193)

Pollan's metaphors are catchy and most of the time right on. I'm sure most of us have been grabbed more than once by nature's "offstage hook." This summer the rug was pulled out from under me when I bragged about having celosia reseed when in fact it wasn't celosia at all but an 18-foot long row of loosestrife. I know what you're thinking, and I feel stupid that I didn't know the difference, but you know as well as I do how hard it can be in early spring to determine one variety of seedling from another.

I can positively identify some things, for example:

Poison Ivy


I'm of the school that most things in life, and in the garden, are not always . . .

. . . Black and White

Monday, September 22, 2008


I'll be the first to admit that it scares me to death when I think about it. I've written more than one morbid poem inspired by it. And when I hear or read: "It's just a part of life," I don't feel any better about it. But there is something about it that's very intriguing.

Perennials go through a stage called dormancy during winter, so they're not really dead. Healthy and long-lasting old shrub roses seem to be immortal, I know of one that's been around at least 150 years.

You don't see many photographs of spent flowers, either annuals or perennials. I guess they might be considered ugly or unsightly, but are they really?

I usually wait until the first snows fly before I cut any of the dried brown stuff. Last year, the Jays were late getting to the sunflowers, so I left them standing through January. Sometimes I'm even lazier and don't bother with it till after the spring thaw. Y'all may be more or less vigilante about such things. (I saw Jays hang upside down to get at the sunflower seeds; you'd think there'd be an easier meal somewhere else.)

Basically, the term "dying back" means that a plant, typically a perennial, stops producing flowers in order to store energy in its below ground body that will help it live through winter. Perennials show off for a few months in summer then starting about late September, seem in a rush to be done with it.

We're having a string of warm days with plenty of sunshine. But you'd think the perennials don't want no more to do with it. I suppose they're more intent on storing starch right now, regardless of what we'd rather see them do.

Here's some poetry. Morbid? Perhaps. Or maybe it's just dying back.

Zombie Lovers

Could I go on
without feeling the loss,
if it never got broken,
wasn't open to pain,
if it didn't pump blood
would hurt go away?
If emotional strife
would leave it alone,
and it could do what
needed done,
would tears never fall,
cries go unheard?

I imagine a day
feeling nothing,
just being, existing.
Would zombie love
be better than nothing?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

"Time Has Come Today"

The year was 1968, I was 12, it was the end of the civil rights movement, and the beginning of the end of the war in Vietnam. About the only thing I had to keep me from becoming a casualty of all that was music, and The Chambers Brothers helped with their hit "Time Has Come Today." I learned how to play it on the guitar, and wished time would never come.

Time has come today
Young hearts can go their way
Can't put it off another day
I don't care what others say
They say we don't listen anyway
Time has come today

The rules have changed today
I have no place to stay
I'm thinking about the subway
My love has flown away
My tears have come and gone
Oh my Lord, I have to roam
I have no home
I have no home

Now the time has come
There's no place to run
I might get burned up by the sun
But I had my fun
I've been loved and put aside
I've been crushed by the tumbling tide
And my soul has been psychedelicized

Now the time has come
There are things to realize
Time has come today
Time has come today

Now the time has come
There's no place to run
I might get burned up by the sun
But I had my fun
I've been loved and put aside
I've been crushed by tumbling tide
And my soul has been psychedelicized

Now the time has come
There are things to realize
Time has come today
Time has come today

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Readying for Winter

I have many houseplants that tide me over through the cold months. When I bring them in from the back porch, most will inevitably lose practically all of their leaves before readjusting. This always worries me. It's readily apparent that they dread winter just as much as I do.

Rubber Plant (Ficus elastica)

But this is as it should be I suppose. For if it weren't for the changing of the seasons, variety would be non-existent, or would it? Sometimes I wonder if living in one of the warmer zones, say 8, 9, or 10, would or wouldn't be gardening bliss. Would I have to pull weeds 8 or 10 months out of the year versus the 4 or so months I have to do it here?

What if there were no distinguishing between summer, winter, spring or fall? Could I grow tropical plants in zone 9 year round? Would I be able to eat bananas picked fresh from a tree in a backyard garden? I've seen banana trees in New Orleans and know they can be grown in hot houses here as well, but to have several of them and other tropical fruiting plants growing right out in the backyard garden, wouldn't that be blissful gardening?

Do you think the Garden of Eden was a tropical garden?

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Four Things

1) The Saturday Acoustic Jam session kicked off today at Phil's Woodshed here in Mercer. Six musicians participated; Phil's the house bass player, and we had three guitars and two dobros. It's a lot of fun and gives us something to do through the winter months.

I was informed after I got home that one of the dobro players is friends with Jerry Douglas and sees other session players quite often. I knew there was something special about this guy, he really knew what he was doing on the dobro, it's great playin with someone you know will pick up on and jam with anything you do.

2) Swingin on a rope is something I can't resist. If I see one dangling anywhere, I'll go over and see if it's swingable. If it is, and it's not against the law or anything, you can bet a Yankee dime I'll swing on it.

This is my daughter swingin on a rope and having a blast.

3) If I could be a spider for a day, I think I'd be a big, bold, black and yellow one. I don't think nothing or no one would mess with me. I see these big spiders quite often along the edges of my garden, with their web stretched out between flower stalks, leaves, rocks, or most anything else that provides a good spot for a net. I was almost tempted to let the one you see below try and bite me while I photographed it. I don't know why I wanted to do that.

4) I love heirloom tomaotoes and won't grow anything else. This is my fourth year growing them and I usually try several new ones each year. This year's top pick has to be 'Green Zebra' for taste and looks. They're only about the size of a tennis ball, which means you have to grow more than one plant if you want a decent sized harvest.

If you want a tomato that tastes like what a tomato should taste like, grow heirlooms. We start ours from seed in March, and by Memorial Day, they're usually a foot tall, sometimes more, sometimes less tall. When I put them out in the garden, I drop a Tum in each planting hole for added calcium, which helps prevent blossom end rot. We also religiously plant a marigold between each tomato plant. Everything else is left up to the plants and Nature. I believe we have a very rewarding relationship with Her.

Peace babies.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


Tina and I got to talkin about Felder Rushing the other day and I decided I'd give him a proper introduction here. I think most southern gardeners are familiar with Felder, but a few of you Yankees might not have heard of this Mississippi garden guru.

I met Felder several years ago when our county Master Gardener Coordinator contacted him for a speaking engagement. At that time he was promoting "Passalong Plants," a book he co-authored with Steve Bender and was giving talks throughout the country on garden art. It was five years ago, February 14, Valentine's Day, when my wife and I sat down in the front row in our local high school's auditorium. Felder walked on stage carrying a small shoot from a pussy willow shrub which I thought was strange (he heard me as I muttered rather loudly to my wife, "What's he doin with that stick in his hand?"). I'm not sure but I think he said pussy willows don't grow down in Mississippi. Felder talked about passalong plants and other ways gardeners do up their gardens, and to make a long story short, he was most entertaining throughout his presentation and heckling from a certain attendee didn't faze him at all.

I felt obligated to make amends so I purchased a book and offered an apology for my somewhat rude behavior during his talk. Felder humbly said it didn't bother him at all, and then asked what I was doin livin with a bunch of Yankees (at some point he noticed my Kentucky accent). After a short explanation, and a solid handshake, we bid each other farewell and I figured it'd be the last I'd hear from Felder, other than reading his published books and articles. Little did I realize what I was in store for.

After we got home that evening I opened "Passalong Plants" and read what Felder had said when he signed my book: "The Rules Stink (except of Ockham's Razor) Have fun pass it along!" At that time I knew nothing about William of Occam so I emailed Felder asking for an explanation. I really wasn't expecting to hear back from him but lo and behold I did, almost immediately. In his email Felder talked about the "KISS" rule and how it applies to gardening, and then asked if he could give me a call because he wanted to make me an offer. And this led to our becoming close friends as Felder decided to allow me to help with research on "Tough Plants for Northern Gardens" and I was honored further by being asked to author the foreword.

If you have a copy of the book, or decide to get one, you'll see pictures of my wife, her herb club lady friends, and myself, and tire planters (I helped cut) each of us decorated. I am still in touch with Felder and we were recently seen together this past March at the Philly Flower Show.