Today in USR–the pleasure of the garden’s perfume. http://www.usrepresented.com/2015/07/01/pleasures-of-the-nose/
I became acquainted with Simone Martel and her writing not long after I started Greenwoman. She’d heard about the new publication and sent me a story, “Almost Too Happy,” about her slightly out-of-control garden and how it reflected her life. I found the essay true-to-life and completely charming. I was excited to publish it in Greenwoman #3.
I think Simone and I have been on a similar trajectory with both our writing careers and our gardening. We’re about the same age, we both live in a craftsman-style bungalow, we’re both do-it-herselfers and self-taught writers of fiction and nonfiction (she wrote a book about her first garden, The Expectant Gardener, published in 2000).
Oh yes, she also wrote a story in my anthology of garden erotica, Fifty Shades of Green! I believe it was the first time that either of us had written erotica. That was fun, too!
Late last year, I heard that Simone’s short fiction had been published in a collection, Exile’s Garden. I couldn’t wait to read it. I found tales ranging from the humorous (one’s about a sentient water lily, another about a garden club outing that meets with several obstacles), to the profound and unexpected (lovers meeting after a war, and how inspiration and hope in life can come from a job in a tomato field). I found each tale a verdant-themed treasure. It was then that I asked Simone if she’d like to be interviewed for Flora’s Forum.
Giveaway: If you leave a comment on this post you’ll be entered in a drawing for one of three copies of Exile’s Garden. (Giveaway begins at noon on May 13th; ends at noon on May 23rd. Winners will be notified on the 24th.)
Flora’s Forum: When did you start gardening?
Simone Martel: I was an only child with a big backyard, so early on I developed a fondness for flowers and trees, worms and mud. I invented imaginary games, too, which is a form of story-telling. Then, in my early twenties, I bought a rundown fixer-upper in Berkeley and I’d go out into the neglected yard to get away from the smell of paint remover and spackling. I just started trying to make a space, pulling up wild onion grass, pruning an overgrown lemon tree. It was quite a natural impulse. Since I had tiny budget, my first plants–bearded iris, clumps of Shasta daisies–came from my parents’ garden and then others, poppies and scabiosa–from seeds I gathered on strolls around my new neighborhood. When I work in my garden now, I’m reminded that many of the plants have stories behind them.
FF: How big a role does gardening play in your life today?
SM: It’s a responsibility! And like most responsibilities, it can feel like a chore sometimes. On the West Coast we never get a break from weeding. On the other hand, hardly a day passes without a meal on the deck or at least some time hanging out with the cats. (We have four.) My garden is where I relax when I’m not writing–though I’m likely to start deadheading instead of resting. I go back and forth between the two activities a lot. I think they complement each other. When I start obsessing over details (whether it’s tying up floppy perennials or tinkering with sentences), I remind myself to see the whole shape of the garden or the structure of a story.
FF: When did you start writing? How did you get into garden writing?
SM: I started writing in high school and college. My now-husband and I met when we were both editors on the high school newspaper. After college, when I started gardening, I also began reading garden literature, falling in love with words as well as plants. Garden writing fed my love of gardening and gardening itself changed the way I looked at the world. Again, the two are so entwined! In my mid-twenties I had an organic tomato farm that inspired “Calle Del Veneno,” the longest story in my new collection.
FF: Tell us about this latest book, Exile’s Garden. How did it come together?
SM: I’d sent the publisher, Edwin E. Smith, “The Garden Over the Hill,” a short story based on a disastrous garden club outing to Sonoma. When Ed asked if I had enough garden stories for a collection, I was surprised to see that, yes, gardening and farming crop up a lot in my writing.
FF: What is your favorite story in this collection, why, and what inspired it?
SM: The title story, “Exile’s Garden,” is the most romantic in the collection and a sort of love letter to my husband. It evokes the tough, bleakly romantic “film noir” world of the post-World War II movies we enjoy watching together. The young couple in the story, a soldier and a journalist, reunite after the war in a Mexican border town to start their new life together. The funny thing is, I wrote an early draft of this story before I’d started gardening, but the story wasn’t really complete until I had the couple come together at the end, in a cottage garden the woman has created during her lonely exile.
FF: Who are your favorite writers, fiction and garden, and why?
SM: Thomas Hardy, Virginia Woolf, Iris Murdoch, E.M. Forester are some favorites, and, with reservations, Hemingway and D.H. Lawrence. In their different ways, they all evoke the natural world, sensuous, romantic or dangerous. I love Chekhov’s stories, too, and Elizabeth Bowen’s strange short work. As for garden writing, to me the best of the genre is beautiful, inspiring and maybe a bit political. David Mas Masumoto’s farming memoir Epitaph for a Peach, and Second Nature by Michael Pollan (before he became a foodie), both come to mind. Mirabel Osler’s A Gentle Plea for Chaos is lovely, too.
FF: List three books you’ve read more than three times.
SM: More than three times? Those would be children’s books: The Secret Garden, Charlotte’s Web, all the “Little House” books. My favorites almost qualify as garden writing. My mom was a children’s librarian and I often spent my Saturdays at the Oakland public library. The library was a retreat for me–like a garden, only filled with books instead of plants.
FF: Where is your favorite place and time to write, and why?
SM: Usually I get writing business over with in morning, then in the afternoon I do creative work on a laptop in the kitchen or in my son’s old bedroom, depending on the sun and the light. Both rooms look out on the back garden, so I can gaze out from time to time. I can’t actually write in the garden. Too distracting.
FF: What’s your next writing project and your next gardening project?
SM: I’m expanding “Calle Del Veneno” into a novel about a brash real estate developer who sweeps into town to develop the land around Gloria’s farm and who clashes with the locals, including Gloria, the fieldworkers, and her own illegitimate son who lives on a commune forgotten by time. In the garden, I’m considering ripping out the cracked driveway to add more vegetable beds on the sunny side of the house. The rest of the garden has grown up so much that I’m mostly editing now, making choices about what can stay. The lawn keeps shrinking. The climbing roses are so happy, I probably should rebuild the old pergola under them.
FF: What are your dream projects in both areas?
SM: I’ve always fantasized about having a bigger garden in Italy or France, maybe, with grape vines, old stone, chickens and ducks. Lately, I’ve been joking about a condo with plants in containers–and no weeds! I know I’d miss a real garden, though. Probably I’ll stay right where I am and continue to fiddle with what I have. It’s gratifying to look at my mature fig tree and remember planting it out of a one gallon pot twenty years ago. Time seems to move slowly in a garden, but still it moves… There’s another book I’m itching to write, this one set in Silicon Valley, about a magic house, and the natural world at odds with the tech world. It would be a departure for me, although plants would be involved. Maybe talking plants.
FF: What a fun idea; I love it. Thank you so much, Simone!
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Giveaway: Leave a comment, and you’ll be entered into a drawing for one of three copies of Exile’s Garden! Winners will be announced on May 24th.
How do you express yourself through your garden? What is your garden style? This is the subject of Rochelle Greayer’s book Cultivating Garden Style: Inspired Ideas and Practical Advice to Unleash Your Garden Personality, published by Timber Press last year.
I’ve looked forward to digging into this beautiful book for some time, and I’m happy to say I was not disappointed. Cultivating Garden Style is an encyclopedia, really, analyzing over 23 styles with creative, playful names like Retro Rockery, Tropical Noir, Forest Temple, and Playful Pop. The photography is exquisite, the ideas abundant. You could linger over this book for hours (I did). Each section goes into what you might include in, for example, a “Playful Pop” garden. In this style of garden you’d find bold colors, geometric shapes, and a fun attitude expressed in such suggested elements as chicken sculptures, colorful floor cushions, an electric-pink birdhouse, and a mix of chair styles from contemporary Adirondack to a bright green rocking chair that looks like it came from The Jetsons, But what, you may ask, if you’re more into a more earthy style? In Greayer’s book, a Cottage Au Courant garden may be what you are looking for. It’s still the cottage garden of yesteryear, but with 21st century adaptations. There’s the white picket fence, wooden arbor, and traditional flowers, the kitchen garden (potager), and the lush plantings, yet new twists abound: modern fabric on the outdoor furniture (why not try a leopard print?), a checkerboard planting for your lawn (tile alternating with groundcovers or grass), and a bright blue modern bistro chair that fits in just fine.
Graeyer was educated in London’s English Gardening School, and she has designed gardens for many international clients and hotels. She was even awarded a medal by the Royal Horticultural Society for her garden at the Hampton Court Palace Flower show. While it’s clear that this über-stylist is passionate about her subject matter, both gardens and style, Graeyer’s prose exudes a down-to-earth friendly encouragement on every page.
While I adore the concept of diversity in garden styles—in the 21st century we can borrow from any period, any country, any tradition, and that is thrilling!—at the same time I worried that this book might prove a little bewildering to a new gardener. There’s a level of sophistication here that’s off the charts, and I puzzled over some of the style subheadings. When two people read “eclectic private paradise” or “summer party” the same visual will probably not spring to mind. That was my only issue; that there were so many styles and accompanying terms, Greayer’s overall message might be unnecessarily muddied. (Actually, I feel that her expertise and enthusiasm calls for a series of style books, not just one.) That stated, it’s understandable that she wanted to put everything in her first book, and gardeners, if anyone, should appreciate abundance.
For me, this book brought up the question of how style develops for a gardener. I remember when I began my first garden. It was in the early ’90s, and I had grown up in traditional suburbia (a neighborhood where identical trees and shrubs and lawns stretched out as far as the eye could see). Although I had developed an aesthetic in art and design, I was anxious about putting my mark on the landscape. To me, and I’m guessing most feel the same, designing an outdoor space is serious business. In our historic neighborhood, I knew I was altering a landscape that had been around for decades. Now I would create a landscape that reflected my values, my interests. It didn’t help that one of the first things I wanted to do was to tear out the lawn, something that was anything but standard at that time.
At this beginning point, every gardener must have some idea of style for guidance. I remember checking out every book I could find on the subject at the library. I knew I was the cottage garden type. There were only several popular styles back then and I connected to the freedom, history, abundance, utility, and, well, chaos. I wanted everything: vegetables, fruits, herbs, flowers, shrubs, trees, a water feature. But, I wondered, what about style? For instance, should I incorporate a plant color scheme? You may laugh, but many books of that period pushed a color palette. I remember reading how a gardener’s addition of a single “jarring color” in a flower bed could throw everything out of balance. (Yikes?) I brought this question up to my mentor. Victoria was a horticulturalist, and a seasoned cottage gardener (she’d created the first cottage garden I fell in love with). “Should I stick with certain color groups with flowers?” I asked her. “Warm tones? Cool tones? I can’t decide—I like them all!” She told me, “Plant whatever you like. It’ll be a bouquet!” That’s all I needed. Her green light encouraged me to let the fun begin. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my garden (oh, the poor plants that have been sacrificed for my education), and I continue to make mistakes, but it’s come together into what is an expression of my values, interests, and aesthetics . . . in other words, me.
An interesting side note is that in the last couple of decades I’ve discovered that everyone has their own inherent garden style. This became apparent when friends moved from one home to another. Their new gardens were almost identical in style to what they’d had before, even in very different climates. Ah-ha! I thought, the gardens we create reflect who we are, no matter where we are! I like that. It’s only when you get too serious, too worried about what the neighbors think, that you lose your individuality.
Books like Cultivating Garden Style can help you discover your personal style and hone it into something extraordinary. It can bring up your level of garden design sophistication. My advice? Relax. Just go into the garden, summon your ideas, and set them free. Don’t be intimidated, don’t feel you have to pick a certain style and use only those elements. Greayer doesn’t. She describes herself as a Colorado native whose own garden is a combination of Handsome Prairie, Sacred Meadow, Forest Temple, and Homegrown Rock ‘n’ Roll.
There were many things to admire about this book, but I think what I loved most was the multitude of practical tips and how-tos that go hand-in-hand with creating a garden. You will find many important basic gardening questions covered: the abc’s on soil, composts, and mulch; how to lay out plants in your garden beds; primers on lighting, trellises, fountains; even how to hang a tree swing. There are fun crafts, like making planters out of recycled items or concrete, oilcloth (waterproof) placemats or a rug, plant hangers. There are helpful, but not overwhelming, plant lists—an example of two are “creepers, cushions, and rosettes” and “ornamental vegetables.” Educational pages about permaculture, xeriscaping, and bees, even one on the fundamentals of “fire scaping” (so very important as wildfires have increased 400% in the last few decades) round out the offerings.
I gave my copy of this book to my friend Denise this month. She is getting married this summer. She has just bought her first home, and she will start her first garden this year. She’s excited, and I’m excited for her. I know she’ll find much in this book to inspire and guide her.
Those of us obsessed with gardening will recognize author Rochelle Greayer as the publisher of the new and notable quarterly garden journal Pith + Vigor. Before that she co-edited Leaf Magazine and was a weekly columnist for Apartment Therapy. (She also had a popular blog, “Studio ‘g’.) It’s clear that she’s obsessed too—in that wonderful, happy way that gardeners share. The thought thrills me there will be more books from Greayer to come.
Browsing the new books at Timber Press this winter, I found a fix for my garden longings–Air Plants by Zenaida Sengo. As a fan of the horticulturally unusual, I’m attracted to these spiky-sculptural plants. (Carnivorous plants also turn me on, and the undersea creature look of succulents mesmerize me.) The tallandsias we usually see at the nursery can be quite small, miniature marvels if you will, and the fact that they don’t require soil gives them the ability to go anywhere there’s good light. Pictures in the book show them wired to screens and collected in frames, dangling artfully from fishing line, in sand terrariums surrounded by gleaming quartz and fluorite. This was exactly what I needed: plants, creativity, and FUN.
A confession: I’ve bought a few tillandsias over the years, but none lasted. Contrary to my life’s work and passion, I am not a natural green thumb–all my plant successes have been hard won, with many casualties along the way. In this book I knew I’d find expert advice to remedy my failing. I sat down to read Air Plants, and I read it straight through in one sitting. (You know it’s good when that happens).
The author of Air Plants, Zenaida Sengo, is a long time tillandsia guru at Flora Grubb Gardens in San Francisco. As an artist who fell in love with horticulture, this book is a perfect combination of her know-how and flair in both disciplines. It’s also a very beautiful book, thanks in large part to the talent of photographer Caitlin Atkinson.
I learned (in some cases, relearned), my air plant ABCs: that tillandsias are epiphytes (plants that anchor on other plants), but that they’re not parasitic, and they are of the family Bromeliaceae, kissing cousins to the bromeliads. Air plants come in two general types; xeric, those that can survive on less water, and mesic, those that need more moisture as they come from areas with moderate to ample rainfall. You can easily tell the difference between the two by their appearance: xeric tillandsias, like other xeric plants, have moisture-retaining leaves (called trichomes) that are more feathery or hairy in appearance, and this gives them a white, gray, or silvery color. Mesic tillandsias have smoother “slicker and greener” trichomes, because in their natural habitat, finding water is not an issue. Reading about their water requirements, I found out why my air plants had died. While I had been told “a dunk in a container of water once a week” would be sufficient, in Sengo’s book it says a soaking of 1-2 hours might be more desirable, up to 5 hours if the plant exhibits curved, dehydrated leaves. In Colorado’s dry climate, these plants need to be soaked. You can also hydrate air plants by misting them a few times a week (if they’re xeric, the mesic require more) or by holding them under a faucet for a couple of times a week.
Those details will enable me to do right by my tillandsias next time. And there will be a next time, as I started hunting for specimens immediately upon finishing this book. That’s how inspired I was. Come to me tillandsias, I won’t hurt you ever again! The book is filled with exciting ideas for displaying these beauties in design and décor, and there are even crafts (I really liked the hair adornments). I’m thinking I’ll construct a screen structure that I can hang as an art object in our sunny east-facing dining room (perfect for winter interest), and I want to put together at least one “other worldy” terrarium.
I was happy to hear that Barbara Crooker, whose poetry has been read many times by Garrison Keillor on The Writer’s Almanac and has also appeared in Greenwoman, has a new book out, Small Rain. Crooker’s sixth book of poetry, is described as “an exploration of the wheel of the year, the seasons that roll in a continuous circle and yet move inexorably forward. Here, gorgeous lyric poems praise poppies, mockingbirds, nectarines, mulch and compost, yet loss (stillbirth, cancer, emphysema), with its crow-black wings, is also always present.” I read her book yesterday and the writing is sublime, the themes deep. I recommend it highly.
Barbara agreed to share a couple of poems today, along with some insight into her gardening life. Thank you, Barbara!
My mother comes back as a dianthus,
only this time, she’s happy, smelling like cloves,
fringed and candy-striped with a ring of deep rose
that bleeds into the outer petals. She dances
in the wind without her walker, nods pinkly
to the bluebells. She breathes easily, untethered
to oxygen’s snaking vines. Lacking bones,
there’s nothing left to crumble; she’s supple,
stem and leaf. No meals to plan, shop for, prepare;
everything she needs is at her feet, more rich and moist
than a chocolate cake. How much simpler
it would have been to be a flower in the first place,
with nothing to do but sit in the sun and shine.
The garden is a source of deep pleasure, and is also a source for many poems. In the front landscaping (azaleas, rhododendron, mountain laurel, holly), I usually plant annuals. When my mother was in a nursing home at the end, a visitor brought her a pot of pinks (dianthus), and she gave them to me to take home. After she passed, I planted them outside, and was delighted to see them come back after the first harsh winter. She’s been gone almost seven years now, but I feel her presence keenly when they open their pink skirts, and dance in the May wind.
SMALL STANZAS IN AUTUMN
Autumn returns, and again we are cast thistledown together
on the winds, wrote Tu Fu in 755 AD, and I feel the cold air
blowing, the years falling by like so many yellow leaves.
Down in the meadow, some larkspur, a few black-eyed Susans
still bloom, but it’s late in the season, everything
going to seed. The afternoon sun licks strips
of gold on my arms. A drowsy silence, hummed
by bees. The thunk of an apple, finally ripe, falling.
We tilt at the balancing point, between summer’s too-much
and winter’s not-enough; the sumac flickers red in the hedgerow.
Last sweet raspberries. The old cherry tree turning orange
peach orchid gold, a sunset of leaves. Small sulphur butterflies
dance on the lawn. Who could paint a sky this blue?
The pages of my notebook flutter in the breeze.
This poem pretty much describes my back yard, or some of it: the little wildflower meadow I replant every year (corn poppies, California poppies (another poem in Small Rain uses them as the subject), Icelandic poppies, cornflowers, larkspur, coreopsis, rudbeckia), the old apple orchard (on retirement, my husband added two more apple trees, two pears, two peaches, one plum, one sweet and one sour pie cherry), the sumac (and goldenrod, thistle, milkweed) in the wild hedgerow, and the raspberry patch we put in almost forty years ago. When we bought this house way back then, the developer put sod in the front plus five small shrubs, and gave us a bag of grass seed for the back. Everything else we put in ourselves, using a pick axe to break through the shale. The old cherry tree in this poem was put in the first year we lived here, but it split apart in a storm and has been replaced by a newer one.
The parts of my garden that aren’t in this poem are: an iris bed, six mixed perennial beds, a row of flowering shrubs (red twig dogwood, two butterfly bushes (on purple, one pink), bridal wreath, tri-colored spirea, two weigela (one red, one pink with variegated leaves), forsythia, hydrangea, pussy willow, mock orange blossom, Viburnum, flowering quince, Viburnum Juddii, and sand cherry), a row of Rose of Sharons and lilacs, two day lily beds, a foundation planting of roses and mums, an herb garden, and a vegetable patch.
And a dogwood tree. Hundreds of bulbs are mixed in; I like to have flowers from February to frost. And there’s a compost bin (also a poem about it in this book). Of course, you don’t see the enemies: voles, rabbits, skunks (the callas need bone meal to flower; the skunks love to snack on this), and deer. . . .
Barbara Crooker’s work has been read many times by Garrison Keillor on The Writer’s Almanac. Her other books are Radiance (Word Press), Line Dance (Word Press), More (C&R Press), Gold (Cascade Books), and Barbara Crooker: Selected Poems. She lives and gardens in rural Pennsylvania.
Well, here I am, interviewing myself for a press release I put together for Fifty Shades of Green last fall. (When you hear self-publishers wear a lot of hats, that is the truth!) I was going to share this interview back with you then, but other things came up and it got stuck in the Drafts folder here on WordPress. Since the film of the other Fifty Shades book is out, I thought now might be a good time.
If you haven’t bought a copy of my book yet, you’re in luck. We have a special going on now – retail price is $15.95, sale price is $12.95 (and it looks like Amazon has taken another dollar off from there). Don’t delay; the savings will not get better than this! Here’s the link!
And Now . . . the Interview
What brought this book about? It started as a joke. I read Fifty Shades of Grey and was shocked. Not by the BDSM sex, but by the inequality in the relationship. I thought: This is what women find sexy? The story had no basis in reality and the heroine was the “submissive”—in bed, in experience, and economically and socially. What’s sexy about that?
I talked to friends and saw most had the same reaction. At first I thought it would be funny to do a parody, a novel with a female protagonist who was older and a billionaire, someone who had all the power in society, and in the bedroom, who would mete out discipline to a virginal, college-aged male love interest. But after exploring that idea, I found it didn’t hold my interest. So the idea changed to a collection of stories.
Where did the gardening theme come from? Gardening had to be a theme. It’s my personal passion and it’s the subject of all my publishing work. Plus, the garden is the perfect setting for sexual encounters. Non-gardeners may not know this, but the garden is a sexy, fruitful, lustful place. And besides, women and gardens have shared an intimate relationship since the beginning; starting, one could say, with Eve.
Can you tell us about the writers? I fell in love with all the writers. Most are seasoned erotica writers and avid gardeners, so they know what they’re writing about in both departments. Several are men, and it was wonderful to have that perspective; two of the writers are from Britain, and I found that thrilling as the British are known for their mad gardening skills. Another writer’s the editor for a regional gardening magazine, and one graduated from Harvard Law School. There’s an exciting diversity in styles and backgrounds.
Do you have a background in the erotica genre? No, and I honestly didn’t know a lot about the genre before I started this project. But I learned, and I read some of the best work out there, and the more I learned the greater my respect for the genre grew. This is my feeling on the subject: sexuality is one of the most important, powerful, and certainly one of the most beautiful aspects of our existence and the way it’s treated is sad. We have a culture where sex=porn and that is just not so. There needs to be a return to honoring sexuality and lovemaking. Placing sexuality in a dark, forbidden place breeds a lot of society’s ills.
How do you feel erotica fits into today’s literature and why is it becoming so popular? I feel that readers are looking for deeper connections, and when you have access to a character’s sexuality, you see the whole person. I think this is the reason TV shows have become more sexual—not for the titillation, though that can be a part of it, but because we want fully-developed characters. In a big way, A Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert validated this book project for me. Here was a story, from a respected author, about a virginal woman in the 1800s obsessed with studying, of all things, mosses. There’s a lot about horticulture and history and becoming a fully-realized human being, but Gilbert also explored her protagonist’s sexuality. It was enthralling, reading about this character’s sexual awakening and her desires.
What surprised you most about the stories you received? The imagination, and the heart. Eros is the god of love and where the word erotica originates, and there is a joy and a depth in these stories that goes far beyond the sex act. In pornography there is no heart; it’s only about the stimulation. I found myself moved by some of the stories, such as “Pulse of the Earth,” a healing love story between two men. “Love Lies Bleeding” is so beautifully written it took my breath away, and “Phallus Impudicus” is high comedy. “The Judgment of Eric” is a riddle. There are a couple of stories where love potions figure in and that’s always fun, both from an adult “fairy tale” perspective and from a psychological standpoint. The collection is a mix of many aspects of the sexual psyche.
Did you have a favorite? Yes and no. I hand-picked them all, and I love them all, but there are a few that are special to me. I won’t name my favorites, but what’s funny is they changed during the editorial process. One story I read aloud recently and just went, “Wow. I think this is my favorite.” I also find it interesting that there’s no consensus among those who’ve read the book. This tells me there’s something for everyone.
Do you garden? (And do you think gardening’s sexy?) Can I scream, “Oh YESSSS!”? I have been an obsessed gardener for over two decades, when we first bought a home that had a yard. I went through master gardener training twice, the second time as a refresher course. I remember the first cottage garden I saw. I was 19 and my soon-to-be husband and I were house-sitting for his brother and his wife. Victoria and Danny had little money but they had an amazing garden: chickens and flowers, a vegetable garden, fruit trees in barrels, a tiered strawberry bed. This was in Colorado in the 1980s and enjoying this humble yet wildly productive and beautiful garden I thought, “This is paradise. I want to do this one day.” And I did.
As far as sex and the garden go, there is no place sexier. Flowers are the sex organs of plants, you know. They are beautiful and many emit intoxicating perfumes. If you have a flower garden and a vegetable garden, you have an orgy going on during the spring and summer, right in your backyard! The bees and butterflies are pollinating, the flowers are cross-pollinating. It’s amazing. You’re surrounded by sex.
P. S. I thought you might find it amusing that the pose and setting for my press kit photo was inspired by one of my favorite garden writers—that true champion of organic growing, Ruth Stout! I love her so! It I wrote about her life last year in a mini-bio that you can read either in Greenwoman #5 or in the Kindle publication, The Whole Ruth: A Biography of Ruth Stout.
Thank you, Ruth. Your sexy good humor was just what I was looking for.
And, once more, the link to buy yourself (or your lusty gardening pal/s) a copy. You know they make great gifts, too!
It was on a garden tour about fifteen years ago that I first enjoyed the landscape artistry of Fawn Bell. I fell in love with a Fallugia paradoxa (common name Apache plume) she’d planted, and admired the rabbitbush, or chamisa as it is called in Spanish. For the first time, I saw how drought-tolerant plants could be incorporated in a charming cottage-style garden plan. I made a list of ones that I wanted to try in my own garden, and did so.
Imagine my pleasure this month when I learned Bell also wrote poetry. Today I would like to share “Bilingual,” a poem that traces the Earth’s seasonal cycle. It is a sweet reminder of all we gain from nurturing, and how we are all in this together.
Today I noticed how the sun has begun to travel lower in the sky; dusk came before dinner dishes were cleared. Done, the hot hours spent pulling tumbleweed from the gravel drive. Gone, our brilliant bluebirds that swooped the meadow singing all summer the songs I’d taught them. Resident hummingbirds’ incessant buzz of wings and frenzied feedings fall away. Left behind, a few straggler bees, a lazy beetle making its way across flagstones, a praying mantis clinging to the screen door and I, like countless mothers of the earth, dragging the garden hose, persistently tending the fading sunflowers, catmint gone pale, the purple Russian sage hedge, its blooms now receding to lavender. At their peak now the rabbitbrush dominate the garden, bellow in mustard yellow that they have no fear of frost. Finally, the thirteen-stripe squirrel hides, making its presence known only in freshly dug holes and here and there a missing catmint.
Winter will close down the rest of our activities. Far away an unknown, dark-haired woman will watch after our bluebirds, a senora speaking in singsong cadences of Spanish. She will remark on their long flights and “how the family has grown.” Our birds will bask on bougainvillea branches, get fat on mole of moths, and please her, saying, “Hola , buenos dias!” and “Vaya con Dios.” Meanwhile, we are left with a birdhouse full of this year’s poop, silence, and our hope in instinct.
Each spring the little wooden birdhouse my husband put up comes alive with four or five pairs of sprouting wings, chirps of hunger beginning at dawn and the sighs of countless, captured moths. I circle the birdhouse pole and begin my words, annunciating my presence, enunciating strange consonants and vowels of the mother tongue. About mid-April, like an avian jack-in-the-box the first chick thrusts its tiny beak through the wood’s drilled hole, opens its throat, calls out in the barely decipherable English of migrating birds, “Hey, good day” and “Go with God.”
As a young girl growing up outside Nashville I played, rode horses, picked vegetables, and did my chores in gardens that had formerly been the home of the “Dirt Dobber,” an educated horticulturist and gardener whose radio show on gardening was widely heard in the South. So, I grew up with surrounded by plants.
After studying history of art and architecture I spent my 20’s living in Brazil, Germany, and France where I became intrigued with urban design. I returned to university studies and took my second degree in Urban Landscape Architecture. I became a licensed professional, working primarily on large systems, urban design, and master planning. One day I received a phone call with the question, “Would you design my garden?” I honestly didn’t know the answer. That was not my focus or my training. But that inquiry sent me on a path of designing estates, a Xeriscape demonstration garden, and many residential gardens—and a return to the simple joy of communing with and designing with plants.
There are two gardens in my life. My city garden is in an historic district in Colorado Springs. It’s a mix of references to Edwardian era order and plant lover’s botanical chaos. Five years ago my husband and I purchased a retreat in the San Luis Valley—and found ourselves surrounded by cacti, rabbitbrush, yucca, blue grama grass, coyotes, pronghorn, deer, elk, birds, lizards, and beetles. We began to rim our little retreat in a slender band of purposefully designed garden. We’ve enjoyed the challenge of gardening in almost pure sand, the extreme winds, freezes, droughts, and blazing western sun. We say good-bye to the plants that have not made it or have been chewed too frequently, and celebrate the beauty of the natives and adaptable species that somehow thrive and bloom despite the odds.
It is a meditative garden of deep quiet, expanses of nature, and a backdrop of dramatic 14,000’ mountain peaks of the Sangre De Cristo range. This poem came of my many hours of toil in the garden and sitting, observing and appreciating the spectacular sensory feast that nature provides—if we will only pause to witness it.
—T. Fawn Hayes Bell