The Daily Muse

A Garden Journal -- February 2001

February 8 - morning

Yesterday evening, my partner and I planted six fruit trees in the garden. As we were finishing with the last tree, a Fuji apple, I remembered one of my very first gardening experiences, some forty years ago, when my dad asked me to "help" him plant and apple tree in our yard. ( I guess I was about four or five years old.) I don't remember many of the details except that I was amazed that the little stick we were putting into the ground would grow to produce fruit like the apple pictured on the tree's label. I regarded the sapling with a profound reverence and was heart broken when one of the kids from next door snapped it's little trunk a few weeks later. I have often dreamed about the moment when I discovered it- broken and splintered.

I consider myself very lucky that reverence and amazement were so much a part of my young life- I worry that today's children have their senses dulled to both by a culture grooming them to be consumers and cynics at ever younger ages. It doesn't pay to be amazed or reverent, that implies both loss and gain. The sense of sadness I felt when I discovered the vandalized sapling is a very different from the irritability of a child who has grown bored with the latest happy meal toy. But, there is no substitute for amazement. It is a gift we are all born with but are taught to disbelieve. The poet, Mary Oliver says in her work, When Death Comes, that "When it's over, I want to say: all my life I was a bride married to amazement... I don't want to end up simply having visited this world."

Yesterday evening, I wished I had a son or daughter to help us plant our trees. That day will come. Until then, I ask you to introduce your children to simple amazement.

February 16 - morning

It is a beautiful crisp morning, heavy storms moved through the area last night bringing over one inch of rain. Despite the fact that it has been misty and drizzling for what seems like a full week, we needed this downpour. I have already made the rounds, visiting the newly planted perennials and shrubs. Everything seems filled with a new vigor. In the past few days the neighborhood pears and peaches have begun to bloom, a sure sign that spring is just around the corner. I can't wait to continue with our planting and see the fresh new leaves appear on our cypress trees.

Earlier this week, I went to my old garden and spent several hour clearing out last year's perennials. It was fun spending some time in the place where I had invested so much time and energy. I enjoyed listening to the titmice as they performed their call and response song. It was powerfully evocative of springs past and of happy times spent lingering in that garden. Our new backyard is a little too open for the birds right now, we have a lot of white wing doves and assorted other visitors, but they feel too exposed. That will change as our new shrubs fill out.

This weekend, in addition to planting more shrubs, we will take the time to hang a few birdhouses, including an owl house that my parents gave me for Christmas. Hopefully, the owls won't intimidate all of the other birds!

Well, I have to run off to the station. I am going to finish my documentary program on the "Painted Churches" today. I hope that you will have the chance to see it. We will be distributing it to the nation's PBS affilliates later this year. I'll let you know when, and then you can call your local affiliate and pester them into playing it!

February 19 - Morning

Yesterday, I planted a small parterre of boxwood, a formal rectangular hedge that defines what will become a flower bed near the center of our garden. I am already pleased with the result, a little green box in the open expanse of our backyard. Many people disparage boxwood as boring. In fact, a recent guest on my television program, Central Texas Gardener, called it the George W. "bush" of the garden. I, however, love the way that it can be used to reinforce the geometry of a garden and provide a fresh green backdrop to more complicated plantings.

Another reason that I enjoy boxwood so much is that it gives me the excuse to exercise my "psycho pruner" gene. Boxwoods are the perfect plant for creating garden topiaries, those whimsical creations of shrubs pruned to resemble everything from dragons to pyramids and teddy bears. I intend to create a number of topiary forms in my garden... what shapes they'll take, I have yet to decide.

Shaped plants, whether sheared hedges, or elaborate topiaries, have fallen in and out of garden fashion for centuries. The French and Italians loved them, the English rebelled against them. (As I understand it, this happened, in part, because "natural" landscapes were considered cheaper to maintain.) Topiaries were in vogue in the Victorian era, and reviled during the hey day of the native plant movement. I think the important thing to remember about shaped plants is that they help create garden structure and can enhance even a bed of wildflowers by providing contrast and accenting the overall plan.

So, onward brave clippers! Create your own boxwood Mount Rushmores adding two Georges if you choose!

February 23 - morning

Earlier this week, I made a short trip to Houston to be with my family. On the way back, I made a stop over in Hempstead , Texas, to visit Yucca-do Nursery. If you are a lover of agaves, succulents, and rain lillies, you need to know about this place. It is staffed by dedicated plants-people who have scoured Mexico and the American Southwest for interesting, garden worthy species. I highly recommend a visit to their nursery, or vicariously, to their website, or catalog. Yucca-do is an off-shoot of one of Texas' most spectacular private gardens, a place with the most unlikely of names, Peckerwood Gardens. The garden is open to the public several times a year and is easily worth the drive from Austin (or Houston, San Antonio, or Dallas!)

When I was in Houston with my parents, a saucer magnolia that I had planted for them over twenty years ago was in bloom. It is a magnolia soulangeana "rustica rubra", one of the more tree-like forms of saucer magnolia. I am completely crazy about the magnolia family, especially the deciduous forms. Seeing their tree in bloom made me wish I lived just a bit further east and could grow a saucer or "star" magnolia without worrying about chlorosis. It is so hard to resist these early spring bloomers! When I lived in Houston, I always viewed them as being the true harbingers of spring with their bold, fragrant flowers. There are a few older specimens around town here in Austin, so maybe, when my new garden grows shadier, I will find a nice corner for one where the plant will just blend in when it is not in bloom. Until then, I'll just dream about the lemony fragrance and their huge, yet delicate blooms.

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