Monday, May 27, 2013

Making Adjustments

I tend to have grand visions of what each part of my garden will look like before I get started on a new project. Sometimes the visions are rather unrealistic, but now that I am becoming more of an optimist, I like to think that even though they may be difficult to attain, they still represent a useful goal. More often than not, though, I find that I do have to make slight alterations to my plans.

The bean tunnel is one such example. I realize now that I didn't fully think through the whole construction. While I did run twine horizontally at intervals of a foot, I neglected to consider the fact that the bean plants would be lolling about with nothing to cling to every 12 inches. In the absence of any good support, they've basically been hugging each other. It's been quite an ordeal this week separating them from what seems a rather passionate embrace. I spent some time today giving them something more productive to climb. Next bean season, though, I think I'll just attach hardware cloth to the PVC supports with zip ties. It will make the structure stronger, and it won't take so long to get it set up.

Vertical twine lines for the beans to climb
I will also have to make some adjustments in the secret garden. A couple of months ago, I sprinkled seeds into a bare spot. I thought that I had used cosmos seeds, but since I am appropriately referred to by Turfman as "The Absent-Minded Professor," I honestly couldn't remember. "No worries," I thought to myself. "As soon as they come up, I'll recognize them by their leaves." Well, up they started, and I was pretty sure they were, indeed, cosmos. But then the plants kept getting taller and taller, much bigger than any other cosmos plants I had ever grown, and so I began to doubt myself. After all, I had absolutely no recollection of what I had planted there. (Turfman suspects that when I successfully defended my dissertation and was congratulated by my doctoral committee, I must have happily walked out of the room and left my brain behind. He may be right. I can't remember.) Well, now the plants are ridiculously tall, completely inappropriate for the front of a flower bed. They're almost as tall as I am.

The gargantuan plant!
Luckily, one of them started blooming the other day, and I finally got full confirmation that they are, indeed, cosmos plants. But they'll have to be relocated.

The recently-revealed cosmos
And then there's Sneezy, the dahlia, whose shy little bud appeared on last week's post. He's quite lovely, but it seems he is, in fact, a dwarf. I should have guessed that by his name. So no one will really see him this year, as I put him in a space behind other things. At the end of his growing season, I'll lift the tuber and place him somewhere a little more suitable. For now, he's my special little secret to enjoy on my own.

Hello, Sneezy!
So, sometimes things just don't go according to plan. In the garden, I'm learning that even if things don't turn out exactly as I envisioned, they can be fixed later and enjoyed for what they offer in the present moment. Isn't that the way we should view all things in life?

Before we part company for the week, though, I need your assistance on one more adjustment that needs to be made. The path through the vegetable garden is not what I had imagined. It's barren. I wanted creeping thyme running through all of the little cracks. I can't seem to get that to grow there, though. If you have any suggestions for what might work in a zone 9b garden that gets full, brutal Florida summer sun, please do point me in the right direction!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Keeping in Tune

By now, those of you who are regular readers are probably aware that I am a rather proud nerd. I have no problem telling the world that I do, in fact, recite poetry when I'm out in my garden. Actually, I can be found quoting snippets of poems in just about any venue, which can sometimes make others feel a bit uncomfortable, I've found. At least, it occasionally draws a raised eyebrow or two. No matter. I recite on, undaunted. But there's something about being in the garden, in particular, that calls to mind a few of my favorite poems.

This past weekend was an absolute source of delight, and I might add, real succour. I found myself frequently exhaling deeply, as I spent almost the entire weekend outside. Some people do not have any interest in gardening. I get that. Plenty of activities don't interest me much at all. I must admit, however, that I am suspicious of people who do not derive any pleasure from being in gardens or seeing flowers. Sitting on the swing in the secret garden this weekend, I began hearing Wordsworth's "The World Is Too Much with Us" in my head. I was quite relieved not to feel implicated by his words in the first several lines: 

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. (Lines 1-9)

One might argue that my garden is too much with me, late and soon, but I find such joy and comfort by being out in nature and being more in tune with it. I like being moved by the smallest changes in the garden, and this weekend really started revealing many more transformations.

It seems as if everything is happening at once in the garden, but I know that it can't be, because I know there are so many other things still coming on. I'm in a constant state of anticipation. The hydrangeas are now blooming in the front garden, joining the roses, salvias, Euryops, and Gaillardias that have been flowering for some time now.

The first hydrangea flower of the year
Still to come, though, are the 'Emily Mackenzie' and 'Lucifer' Crocosmias and the 'Bishop of Llandaff' and 'Sneezy' Dahlias. The Bishop of Llandaff plants are still only putting on height and leaves. But Sneezy is starting to make himself known, something I happily discovered this morning when I walked out front with my camera. He's meant to be 1-2 feet tall, but here he is at 6 inches today, and already he has a bud. 

Dahlia 'Sneezy' looking a little shy
In the back garden, the fig tree is now absolutely full of little baby figs, six weeks after I photographed the first leaf (see earlier post). I love them in this state, tiny, but full of promise. They are safely tucked under leaves, protected from bird attacks. I also love them when they are swollen and sweating beads of sweetness. I love them, if I'm honest, almost continuously because they always put on some kind of show, however modest, and I get to marvel at every phase of their growth.

Four baby figs on this branch alone!
The plumeria, which, like the fig tree, had put on its first leaves just a short while ago, is now blooming. I cheerfully picked the flowers and handed them to our house guests this weekend. Seeing them walk around with a tropical flower tucked behind an ear filled me with deep satisfaction and made me smile. Even better, we were visited all weekend by a host of butterflies, and my house guests seemed to enjoy them as much as I did.

Another plumeria flower unwinding
As I sat on the secret garden swing on Saturday, I was amazed by all of the 'Jackmanii' Clematis flowers that had opened in just a couple of days. Sitting there, taking in the whole of the garden, I thought of lines from Gerard Manley Hopkins's poem "God's Grandeur":

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things (lines 9-10)

And that's it. That's the great miracle of nature. It moves me every day. 

The 'Jackmanii' Clematis bursting into flower

Monday, May 13, 2013

Life's Little Surprises

I am a worrier. When I was studying for my doctoral exams, I met with my dissertation director every week. One week, I must have appeared especially distressed because he said, "You seem really stressed. What can we do about that?" Hanging my head, I replied, "Oh, if I'm not stressed, I'm not breathing. Best to just move on." I've even told people that if worrying could be made into a career, I'd easily be the CEO of a worry company by now. I used to think this was funny. Now I find it rather sad.

Worrying about everything under the sun really has gotten me nowhere in life. It hasn't made things easier. It hasn't kept bad things from happening. It has simply made me terribly tired and caused me to remain in situations that have been downright destructive for me. It's now time this CEO of Worry resign her position. I have taken one major step in the right direction by refusing to continue working a job that I have known for some time is not good for me. I worried for too long that quitting would call forth countless difficulties, but when the moment came, I told the worrier in me to shut up and quit already. The remarkable outcome of this decision is that I have been presented with three jobs that are all immediately appropriate for and interesting to me. In all my time of fretting, I could not find one job, and now that I have sworn off the fear, the opportunities seem to be falling like manna from heaven. Each day is, as Tennyson's Ulysses puts it, "a bringer of new things," and I actually look forward in anticipation. I am beginning to wonder if my garden hasn't been instrumental in my transformation.

Take, for example, the seed that is the bean. As my regular readers know, I planted beans in my veg garden last week. To be precise, I planted 30 seeds. As of this morning, 26 of them are now up. What a miraculous thing it is to creep out each morning and find something that was once a dried, hard bean peeking its head out of the ground, unfurling in a fresh shock of green, often donning its hardened shell as a cap, and then casting it aside later that same day to start its great ascent.

It's Christmas (Lima Beans) in May!

Or imagine how dubious I was when digging a hole to put in what looked a bit like a skinny sweet potato but is meant eventually to be a stunning lily. I planted the tuber as a memorial to my sweet Wolfie, so the stakes felt a little higher. What if it didn't grow? For a month there was nothing, and then one day, as I sat out in the secret garden on the swing, I noticed something 18" tall where I had placed the tuber. Just when I had begun to lose hope, there was a surge of great joy in the form of a plant.

The Gloriosa superba Rothschildiana (foreground)

The little suprises just keep coming. I have had a Clematis Jackmanii for three years now that has not performed up to expectations. Initially, it grew rather tall, and just as we made proclamations that it would soon cover the swing arbor, it simply quit growing. In its next year, I was too fearful to prune it back, and I was repaid with virtually no growth at all. This year, in the spirit of no fear, I cut it all the way to the ground. It is now over the arbor in just a matter of a month. So once again, my garden teaches me a life lesson: fear stunts growth.

Jackmanii exceeding expectations (through center of photo)

I like the education my garden gives me about life. Often, it's just when we've completely given up on something that it bursts forth, like my Josee lilac, which seems to be telling me that I'm impatient.

The lilac in bloom
And when we have to uproot something from its home (something I've had to do a lot in my adult life), it may suffer a period of shock. But given time and care, it will eventually cling to its new home and flourish. I'm finding that in the garden, as in life, there's really not a lot to worry about because something wonderful is always about to happen.

The Jasmine I had to cut back and move last year

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Magical Fruit

Stop it. I know what you're thinking. I'm sure some of you are tittering right now, remembering the humorous rhyme about beans that we all chanted as kids. I was taught it by my grandpa. I've heard two forms of it, one referring to beans as the "magical fruit" and  the other as "musical fruit," but I'm focusing on their real magic this week. You know, the Jack and the Beanstalk kind of magic--that awe-inspiring ability of pole beans to grow to great heights in a matter of days and put food on the table. Giants are optional.

I've been thinking a lot lately about growing more of our own food here. I've been influenced to this thinking by watching Alys Fowler's BBC series, "The Edible Garden," and Carol Klein's "Grow Your Own" (also from BBC). In fact, it was by watching them that I actually began to believe that I might be able to feed Turfman and myself mostly from the veg garden. With my courage fortified last week by them and Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I was off to my home library to consult the two books I have on Florida gardening. I really wanted to learn what grows best here in the summer. That's when my eyes fell on the mention of beans.

Lima Bean "Christmas"
Shortly after that, I was on the computer, furiously typing in the web address for Seed Savers Exchange again. I was focused first on putting a packet of the Christmas Lima Bean in my online shopping basket. I grew them last year and was amazed by how prolific and lovely they were. I had created a bamboo pole teepee for them, and they absolutely smothered it. It looked like they were participating in a popular pastime at my college, in which one young male would yell "FUMBLE!" down the hall of the dorm, and every guy on that floor would tackle and pile onto the unsuspecting victim walking in front of the instigator. In no time, the beans had toppled the teepee. I wanted more of that kind of bean magic. And, as always happens when I'm on the Seed Savers site, I also wanted quite a bit more: Lazy Housewife (love the name), Purple Pod Pole (I'm a sucker for alliteration), Bountiful (for what the name promises). I also added in a packet of Shirofumi soy beans, Marconi red pepper, and Emerald Green melon. If things go according to plan, I doubt people will want to come over for dinner. There will be basically one thing on the menu.

All of the beans but Bountiful are pole varieties. In preparation for those lovely little packets of protein, I began thinking of what kind of support I could give them. I wove arches made of dried willow last year. That didn't work out as well as I had hoped. We just don't have access to a lot of freshly cut willow, and the dried obviously does not bend well. They worked well enough to support the beans, and it was great fun to walk through the arches, picking beans along as the hung inside. But I wanted arches that were little more sturdy this time. And they had to be something that I could easily assemble and disassemble. I presented this little problem to Turfman. We puzzled together for a while, and then he set off to the local hardware store. He returned with 10' pvc poles and 45° joints, and then we tried to come up with a solution. And here's the final product.

Bring on the beans!

I simply cut some of the poles into 5' sections and others into 2.5' sections. I used no glue, simply pressed the 45° joints over the ends of the pvc sections to join them. To keep them steady inside the planter beds, I used metal straps from the electrical department. Then I used twine to further strengthen the structure and give the beans a latticework to climb. It's not perfectly symmetrical, I realize, but hopefully in a month they'll be so overtaken with vines laden with beans that no one will see them. I think they look fine now anyway, though, and they are plenty sturdy. Now it's just a matter of waiting for those little seeds to start their magic. If only they grew as quickly as the ones Jack had. If we keep getting good rain like we did this past week, they might do just that.

We had an incredible amount of rain last week. In fact, yesterday was the first day in a week when it did not rain. That made gardening difficult, especially during the periods when it seemed like we were in the middle of a tropical storm, but the plants absolutely loved it. So I have to show you how they responded to the good, long drink.

My Don Juan rose putting on a show

The front beds are overflowing!

The first of my favorite flower, the Daisy, has opened

And the zucchini continues to grow. I considered using a leaf as an umbrella during one of the downpours. 

The mammoth zucchini

Now all that's left for me to do is wait for those beans (okay, and a whole lot of gardening in between). I suspect each time I walk into the veg patch, a neighbor might just be able to hear me chanting a familiar rhyme over and over to myself. "Beans, beans, the magical fruit, the more you eat..." Well, you know the rest.