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