Tag Archives: garden poetry

March Pink

Knoll_camellia

Photo by Tricia Knoll.

Here in Colorado, where there’s only a tease, a mere hint of green in early March, it’s hard to imagine parts of the country–and the world–now blooming in technicolor. Tricia Knoll shows us what is going on in Oregon with a poem she wrote last night. In an accompanying note she remarked that on Saturday, as she texted her daughter in Vermont images of daffodils, her daughter was purchasing rock salt for her icy sidewalk.
–Sandra Knauf

Pink Camellia Bloom

Bud an ovoid vow
to open overnight.

Stared in the face,
fibonnaci series swirls.

To the fingertip
silk-rouged flesh.

Upside down flirt
of a square-dance skirt.

Hold to the nose
cold, wet.

Vased up on the desk,
a fastly falling mess.

Let scatter to earth
to brown down

mere worm food
like all the rest.

* * *

Tricia Knoll is a Portland, Oregon poet who has maintained gardens all her life, sowing the seeds of sanity. She grew up admiring her mother’s roses and vegetable garden. She is an Oregon State University Master Gardener and volunteers at Portland’s Washington Park Rose Test Garden. Her chapbook Urban Wild is available from Amazon and focuses on interactions between humans and wildlife in urban habitat.

Her lyric and eco-poetry of  Ocean’s Laughter (Aldrich Press) focuses on a small town on the Oregon coast, Manzanita. Website: triciaknoll.com
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“Plight of a Peony” by Hilary Hauck

'Strawberry Swirl' peony; image by Hilary Hauck

The luscious ‘Strawberry Swirl’ peony. Photo by Hilary Hauck.

Hilary was very gracious to share one of her poems and a little write up of her memories gardening in England–with her mum! I’m sure you’ll enjoy both as much as I did. It’s so fun to get to know our readers. Thanks, Hilary!

–Sandra Knauf

Plight of a Peony

Beneath luxuriant massage of
ant paws tromping nectar,
petals in fierce embrace
play their favorite guessing game
nymph or no nymph?

Weary of mischief the layered clasp allows
translucent ruffles to escape with
ethereal scent of coveted infusion
in bow of elegant piousness
king of flowers.

Devil–may-care of fleetingness,
the peony regales with pageantry of beetles
spelunking in search of a cure,
strawberry swirl feast fit for a fly
subject of art.

Graceful to the end, tinged plumes
expose bounty woodpeckers peck eyes for,
arranging piles of concluding goodness,
plush swirls in final offering
wilted banquet for crawlers and mud.

"Feast Fly" photo by Hilary Hauck.

“Feast Fly” photo by Hilary Hauck.

 

I inherited my love of gardens from my Mum, if I may keep the British spelling. Some of my earliest memories are tagging along as she tended the garden (or yard, as you might call it) of an elderly lady in our village in Kent. Mostly I remember smells and textures—damp soil, windfall apples, a creosote shed, moss in unexpected places. It was better than any playground, a jungle of hiding spots amongst plants taller than I was. Every inch of earth was intentionally occupied—the best way to prevent weeds from encroaching, a philosophy Mum still swears by today. When I think of Mum, I think of gardens. The thing I miss most about home on the other side of the ocean is her garden.

A few years ago, my husband and I built a house at the end of a dirt road in the woods of Pennsylvania. Long before we were able to lay a lawn, I spent hours digging clay, amending it with manure and peat. I transplanted favorite perennials from our old house, some my Mum planted, including two peonies which astound me each year with the generosity of their blooms. And then there were the car-fulls of lily of the valley, irises, phlox, columbine, and many other plants my mother-in-law (spelled Mom) dug from her yard in Ohio, along with roses of Sharon and a trumpet vine that originated in her sister’s yard in New York. Our garden still needs a lot of shaping and taming, a process taking longer than we expected, but there’s something poignant about the way it has come into being as a sprawling happenchance. Quite fitting like a rooting of new family ties, a grafting together of family traditions.

–Hilary Hauck

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Hilary’s photo by her husband, Darryl Hauck.

Hilary Hauck grew up in Kent, a county also known as the Garden of England. She spent much of her young adult life in Italy, where she taught English as a Foreign Language and studied another of her great passions, cooking. She married Darryl and moved to Pennsylvania in the early 2000s. Between them they have 3 children and 2 grandchildren. Hilary is a freelance translator of Italian, and she writes fiction and poetry.

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Everything She Needs is at Her Feet—the Garden Poetry of Barbara Crooker

Small Rain by Barbara Crooker

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!

—Sandra

Dianthus microlepis by KENPEI, via Wikimedia Commons

Dianthus microlepis by KENPEI, via Wikimedia Commons

DIANTHUS

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.

Barbara writes:

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.

Sumac Leaf Circle by Rebecca Siegel via Wikimedia Commons

Sumac Leaf Circle by Rebecca Siegel via Wikimedia Commons

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

Barbara Crooker

Barbara Crooker

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.

You can get a signed copy of Small Rain from Barbara at bcrooker@ptd.net, or via Amazon http://goo.gl/CvtA4W,

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Bilingual Gardens

Fawn Bell's San Luis Valley garden retreat.

Fawn Bell’s San Luis Valley garden retreat.

 

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.

Sandra Knauf

 

BILINGUAL

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.”

 

Male and female Lesser Goldfinches (Carduelis psaltria) feeding on the plume-like seeds of Apache Plume (Fallugia paradoxa)}} |Source={{own}} |Author=Amaling |Date=2009/08/23 |Permission= |other_versions=

“Male and female Lesser Goldfinches (Carduelis psaltria) feeding on the plume-like seeds of Apache Plume (Fallugia paradoxa).” Photo by Amaling, Wikimedia Commons.

 

About Fawn:

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 gardensand 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 Valleyand 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 providesif we will only pause to witness it.

—T. Fawn Hayes Bell

 

Fawn Bell Hayes

Fawn Bell

 

 

 

 

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Battling the Bittersweet

 Oriental_bittersweet (2)

Sometimes we meet the most interesting people through correspondence. Of course, I’m a little partial to artists and writers who garden, and I meet those individuals most often through this blog and other material I publish. I met Monica when she shared a couple of her poems; poems, she wrote, which “sprung up in between my many other writing projects, most of them unabashed fantasy and science fiction for children and adults.” She grew up in North Carolina, went to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and got a PhD in neuroscience from UCLA. She lives and works in the Boston, Massachusetts area as a medical writer, and has two young sons, and she gardens. Now you may rightly think, like I did, where does she have time to write or publish at all?

 She makes time because she loves it. I liked her work (I especially delighted at the mention of a triffid!) and asked if I might share a poem with you. She said yes.

 I think you’ll find it sweet.

(Note: Please forgive the extra space after the second line in the poem–Wordpress has some formatting “kinks.”)

– Sandra Knauf

 

 

Celastrus orbiculatus from Wikipedia

Celastrus orbiculatus from Wikipedia

Battling the Bittersweet
by

Monica M. Eiland

When we bought the house
We saw the vines, it’s true

They looked so innocent and sweet
Who knew they’d be so hard to control
Soon we were battling the bittersweet.

The clear signs of this ornamental vine:
Tender tendrils twisting, turning
Up every fence along the street
Climbing, straining, ever hopeful
Like ourselves, the bittersweet.

Growing into a dreadful triffid
Like something from a manga
Never enough for it to eat
Strangling, mangling all in sight
This oriental ornamental, this bittersweet.

Baby swinging, sleeping in his blissful seat
Alone, while we whacked away at vines
We’d rather admire his chubby, fragrant hands and feet
Than stand out in the blazing sun
‘Cause we were battling the bittersweet.

Come the patter of his little feet
The next season, the vines were back
Trailing tendrils, clearly difficult to defeat
We’d rather have a riot of raspberries
Than this freaking bittersweet.

Another year, a new baby at the teat
Who has the time to fight these vines?
Why’s it taken us three years, and still not beat?
We’d rather enjoy the water park
Than keep battling this bittersweet.

Years later, still battling, why fight
While life goes by us
Why not simply admit defeat
So we can watch our boys grow up in peace
Instead of battling the bittersweet?

But we cannot stop, we cannot rest
We won’t give up like tenants past
We know the price of cowardly retreat:
Life slowly mired in this suffocating vine
Drowned to death by bittersweet.

* * *

Monic

Monica

 

My relationship with my garden is chiefly one of benign neglect. As a working mother with two active boys, all of those normal things that one is supposed to do in a healthy garden – the weeding and cleanup, the watering, the fertilizing – often aren’t in the cards for me.

My husband and I didn’t start with benign neglect, of course. When we first moved into the house –  with just one boy small enough to take his first steps in the kitchen – our first order of business in the garden was to remove the bittersweet. For the former owner, the bittersweet must have seemed a low maintenance way of generating a privacy screen between herself and the neighbors. And it’s an attractive plant: elegant, unusually shaped three-lobed leaves, delicate tendrils (when it’s young, anyway!), and berries of green, red, and a dark purple black. It was one of several species we found in the yard that are, these days, considered Plantae non grata: non-native invasive species with no respect for limits. Its sisters-in-crime were a diseased hemlock that had grown over a story high right next to the foundation, some aged rhododendrons more suited to a roomy hillside in the Azores, and several other rapidly overgrowing bushes of ill repute.

Unlike in the poem, we hired help with the garden, to do the heavy lifting of removing these plants. That allowed us to plant, first of all, the raspberries, the blueberries, and the apple tree, knowing that all things that bear fruit require time. Given that neither my husband nor I are from New England, we also hired experts to help in choosing and installing some other species that play well with others: lavender and flowering mint, tall grasses, the Pasque flower, sedums, hellebore, mountain laurel, and rhododendrons (the kind that want to leave other plants some elbow room) to name a few. Over the years, I filled in with other intriguing varieties: the eccentric euphorbia, an energetic and healthy dead nettle, the family of hens and chicks, grape hyacinths, bleeding hearts, and an army of bulbs that never seem to be as numerous after a winter onslaught of hungry squirrels.

In the late spring, I find just enough time to dash to a garden store and procure some greenhouse-fostered tomato plants and squashes and Neptune [organic fertilizer] for the raspberries. So, by midsummer, there are mini-tomatoes more delicious that the ones you can buy in any store, along with plentiful zucchinis for the grill. Then, all fall, there are raspberries, and perhaps, if we were lucky that year, some blueberries and apples. If there were any justice in the world, I suppose, my lack of diligent watering, weeding, and regular fertilizing would leave me with a poor crop, but so far, the yard has been all too kind in the face of benign neglect. And sometimes, when I stay my hand for long enough and do not pluck those weedy herbs that crop up on their own, I find, instead of bittersweet, a gift from God: plentiful dill and mint and marigolds from prior years; bluebells in the front garden; Queen Anne’s lace; a profusion of wild violets; a bush with oddly shaped leaves that suddenly flowers; or, every other year, a fuzzy-leafed verbascum that matures and sends up a five-foot high stalk topped by a foot-high show of yellow flowers. It is not a tidy space, as you can imagine, but one filled, increasingly, with pleasant species that I have chosen, or that have fortuitously and unexpectedly, chosen me.

– Monica M. Eiland

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Spring Chicken

Appraisal by Grant Wood, 1931

“Appraisal,” by Grant Wood, 1931

Some months ago I came across this painting by Grant Wood and fell in love with it. The chicken was beautiful and I thought the farm woman was, too. I got into imagining what was going on in this story. Did the rich lady (judging from her jewelry and beaded purse) wish to buy a chicken? For eggs? Or for her dinner? Or maybe she’s there for some other reason and the farm woman just happens to be holding a chicken. (Yeah, I guess that sounds silly, but she does seem to be cradling it rather tenderly.)

I thought of the image again when I was trying to figure out what to share with you this week. I thought a poem would be nice, and this one from Lois Beebe Hayna resonated with me. She’s a celebrated local poet, and I treasure her work. It has been featured on this blog and in Greenwoman Magazine, Issue #2. She turned 100 years old last spring.

Of course, after deciding on “Spring Chicken,” I connected the farm woman in the painting with the farm woman in this poem; even though her coat’s green, not brown.

Spring Chicken

by Lois Beebe Hayna

The brown coat’s good for another
winter’s wear, one of the best
buys I ever made—a good warm coat
marked down. I wore it into town
this morning in the first hard frost,
and if I felt drab in it
and ‘country’—how else
can a woman my age expect to feel?

I sold my last good batch of eggs—
hens pretty much quit laying
when it gets cold. I made enough
to tide me till Christmas
and well into spring, if I’m careful.
I am always careful.

They were buttoning a red coat
on the fly-specked mannequin in Ebert’s
window—scarlet wool, with a jaunty flare
and a warm turned-up collar.
It drew me in, though I knew
it cost too much and anyway
this brown coat is still just fine.

It fit like a charm. A pretty woman
gleamed back at me from a scratchy
mirror. That woman dipped deep
into my summer savings and I rode home
not dowdy at all in the old
brown coat with the red glow warming me
right through the box.

I know what they’ll say, whispering
behind their hands—At her age!
Doesn’t she know she’s no spring chicken? Squandering
money on a coat that’ll show every speck
of dirt? I smile into the wind. The woman
wearing this red coat
won’t care.

* * *

I so love this poet, don’t you? I’ve read all of her books; check them out here on Amazon. There are many delights in their pages.

And doesn’t the painting fit well?

Now for the strange part. I didn’t really know a lot about Grant Wood so I read a short bio, and then looked up images of “Appraisal.” One led me to a blog, which led me to this article by Henry Adams in Arts & Antiques. Adam’s 2010 article is about a “remarkable” new biography of Grant Wood by Tripp Evans, Grant Wood, A Life (published by Knopf). Although it was mentioned in the Wikipedia bio that there was a “theory” Wood was a closeted homosexual, the article states that Evans was convinced. (Grant remained securely closeted because in those days homosexuality, even if you were a WWI war vet, as Grant was, could have you sent to prison, or condemn you to castration.) Evans’ book goes into that aspect of Wood’s life, and into surprising insights into his work. (I also learned that Wood’s Daughters of the Revolution showed our founding fathers in drag. Wood called it a satire.) Now for the big surprise. I learned that the farm woman in “Appraisal” was actually a fellow artist, the devilishly handsome Edward Rowan. From a bio on Rowan, I learned that he was a nationally-known leader of the arts during the Depression era and that he and Wood had met in Iowa (where Grant was from). Moreover, during a visit with Edward and his wife Leata at their summer home in the town of Eldon, Iowa, Grant Wood discovered the house that inspired his American Gothic masterpiece.

Wood and Edward’s friendship was the catalyst for the Stone City Art Colony in 1932-33. Rowan ultimately became the Assistant Chief of the Fine Arts Section, Federal Works Agency, Public Buildings Administration, and remained in that position through the 1940s. There Rowan supervised artists creating murals across America; ultimately there were over 1,000. Rowan, also a WWI vet, worked for veterans causes throughout his life.

It’s funny where a painting can lead you—and oh, the stories behind the art!

—Sandra Knauf

Edward Rowan

Edward Rowan

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Green Poetry

Sunflowers

by

Meredith Drake

canstockphoto10672083 (2) sunflower bird

When I return
from the excess of summer,
they are still out there
on their crosses,
bowing their heads
and letting the birds
pluck out their eyes.
O Helianthus,
tell me again how willingly
the earth will hold my feet.
Lend me your restraint
as I learn to remain in place
and show my face to the sun.

Meredith Drake 1 (2)     Meredith Drake worked as a newspaper journalist and as a writer for various universities until she discovered she liked writing poetry and fiction better. She cares for her home and family in a village in western New York. Her favorite flower is currently the nasturtium.

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