The Daily Muse

A Garden Journal -- April 2001

April 4 - morning

The past few days have have seemed a bit like summer- sultry and warm. Despite the fact that the ground is still wet, I have forged ahead with my planting, I don't want to wait till the heat sets in. A couple of days ago I planted our "possumhaw hollow", a semi-circle of possumhaw hollies that will anchor the major crossing axis of the garden. I already am enjoying the enclosed, grotto like feel of the space. Over time, I hope to reinforce the geometry of the circle with a stone bench where I can sit and meditate, or where friends can gather when we entertain.

My partner has also been very busy in the garden. He is a fabulous cook and he has focused his energies on our little vegetable and herb patch. We have planted tomatoes, serrano peppers, basils, mint, thyme, and a variety of other salsa/sauce components. Yum!

I am hoping to complete planting the last of the major shrubs for our backyard today. They are a group of Will Fleming yaupons that will serve as the "wall" of the zen garden in the far back corner of the yard. This tall, slender form of our native yaupon is an outstanding landscape plant that makes and immediate impact with its tight columnular shape. The zen garden will consist of raked gravel, a statue of Buddha, and little else.

I have been attracted to the wisdom of the Zen tradition since I was in high school and discovered haiku poetry. Zen invites us to pay attention... to pay attention to the stillness buried beneath the clutter of our lives and to the gifts of creation that surround us.

"The song of birds, the voices of insects, are all means of conveying truth to the mind; in flowers and grasses we see messages of the Way. The scholar, pure and clear of mind, serene and open of heart, should find in everything what nourishes him." - from the Saikontan, by Kojisei translated by Robert Blyth.

The verse above reminds me of the Mary Oliver poem, The Summer Day, which can be found in the inspiration page of this website. We find nourishment in all that we pay attention to. The question is, to what are we paying attention?

April 5 - evening

I just completed my last "inspection tour" of the garden for the day. I am so much my father's son... somewhere inside, generations of farmers have imprinted themselves on my genes and I find myself forever wandering about my back forty.

The air is still warm, and as I walked about the yard I could hear the laughter of the neighborhood children who were out enjoying the extra hour of daylight saved. A mockingbird was taking advantage of the sun's last rays, letting them spotlight his performance as he trilled and cooed and whistled from his perch. As I write this I can hear a frog adding his voice to the buzz of the insects. This evening, the garden is for listening.

Tomorrow I will plant a bed of perennials, the first major perennial bed of our new backyard. I will be putting in a theme bed made up exclusively of "composite" flowers, pretty standard fare- rudbeckia, echinacea, coreopsis and the like. I have been attracted to these daisy like plants since I was a kid who marvelled at the black-eyed susans and white daisies that grew in the fields around our home.

The echinaceas, or coneflowers that I will be planting, were labelled at the nursery as "Lynn Lowrey Coneflower". Lynn Lowrey, was a pioneer and a gentle soul- an unassuming champion of native plants before they came into vogue. I met him on several occasions when I visited a nursery that he operated near Houston some twenty years ago. I always felt that going out to Lowrey's place was something akin to a pilgrimage, I felt drawn to it and yet intimidated at the same time. I knew that I would be surrounded by folks who were steeped in the knowledge and lore associated with the plants of our state. I was just a kid, but I remember Lynn greeting me with his meek handshake, making me feel special, almost worthy.

I will take my time tomorrow, when I plant my coneflowers. It will be nice having a touch of Lynn's spirit growing in my back forty.

April 9 - morning

There is always "the next project" when it comes to gardening. The shrubs and trees have all been planted and in our perennial bed of 'daisies', the plants are already sending up bloom spikes. We can't rest, however. Now we have to complete our irrigation system,extend our pathways, and plant our grass. And the maintenance jobs, disease and insect control, are becoming ever more urgent with the onset of the heat and humidity. Never done, always in progress, ahhh the life of a gardener.

April 17 - morning

A strong cool front has just blown through the garden, freshening the air and delaying the inevitable spiral into summer by a few welcome hours. The past week has seen a major leap forward for the garden, our pathways have been extended, the final "patio" spaces have been outlined, and we have planted more vines and perennials.

One thing that I have noticed in my recent journal entries is that I can no longer say "my" garden, or what "I" have been planting. My partner, Victor, has become an avid gardener and full gardening partner over the course of the past year. He has helped with every aspect of the garden from tilling the earth to planting. Now, when we walk through the garden in the evening he talks to his herbs and veggies ecouraging them on; he even calls the tadpoles in the pond his "little ones."

In my last garden I played garden dictator, I gardened with an audience in mind, but it was a solitary activity for me. It has been so rewarding to create this new space with Victor, it is ours to share, a reflection and celebration of our love.

April 22 -evening

Yet another dump truck load of crushed granite and limestone was delivered a few days ago, the neighbors who walk our street have asked if we are building a mountain. I am sure that all of the material going into our backyard has caused more than a little "conversation."

Yesterday, Victor moved all of the limestone into the backyard by himself while I took my parents on a tour of the Painted Churches. I was stunned when we came back and saw what he had accomplished. Today, we repotted plants, moved containers, and tended to all of the newly planted perennials and shrubs. Among the container plants that we have purchased is a passion vine called "incence", it has a truly bizarre bloom that should either impress or scare our visitors.

We are in real need of a rain for the first time in months. I am hoping that some long awaited thunder storms this evening will bring an inch or more. If we are lucky enough to get that kind of rain, I'll have a few days of down time, waiting for the soil to dry before getting after the last of the path and patio building.

A few months ago, before my brother's death, I wrote about the cemetery near my house where I take my "constitutional " walks. This morning, my Mom, Dad, and I walked through the rows of memorials and stones, talking about our choices for my brother's marker. His grave is now marked only by the Lacy Oak that I planted for him, and a metal shepherd's hook that holds a windchime. We all sense that now is the time to plant a stone. We have narrowed our choices to either a traditional monument of red or blue granite, or a simple stone bench. We left a bush daisy behind to brighten my brother's grave site, my Mom picked it out at the corner nursery. Later, Victor and I returned to the cemetery to plant it. It is strange to find myself tending to this garden, but I am glad that it is so close and so much a part of my routine.

April 23 - morning

Late yesterday evening, after writing the journal entry above, I couldn't resist one more walk around the garden. We installed some solar lanterns to illuminate the paths and I had to make sure they were all functioning. (Excuses, excuses!)

I love being outdoors at night, and as the lanterns flickered on I noticed fireflies drifting through the garden. It was a beautiful coincidence that transported me back nearly one year to our first few days in our new home. The fireflies that frequent our neighborhood thrilled me then, and now.

Along the pathways

the lanterns begin to glow,

fireflies drift about

following paths of their own.

April 26 - morning

Yesterday I attended a board retreat for the Seton Cove. Our speaker, University of Texas Professor, John Rodden, talked to us about simplifying our lives- or as he put it, the pursuit of clarity, commitment, and community in relationship to the divine. It was a tremendous presentation about the choices we make that either weigh us down, or lighten our movement through our lives. It was an evening filled with useful concepts; one central idea had to do with recognizing our own limitations, that we cannot have or know it ALL, that we have to be humble enough to trust in the mystery that lies around the next bend. Both the gardener, and searcher within recognized the wisdom of what he was saying. The countless choices we make are all part of a balancing act that we perfom, knowingly or not.

I recently participated in the Mayfield Park Gardening Symposium and gave a talk called "Finding the Soul of the Garden." In that talk, I used the following quote from Stephen Mitchell's translation of the Tao te Ching:

Fill your bowl to the brim

and it will spill.

Keep sharpening your knife

and it will blunt.

Chase after money and security

and your heart will never unclench.

Care about people's approval

and you will be their prisoner.

Dou you work, then step back.

The only path to serenity.

As we till the soil of our gardens and our lives, the work that must be performed is really the work of sorting through the countless choices that barrage us. Are our decisions, our "commitments," lifting us up, or dragging us down? Do they bring beauty and utility into our lives? Or, are we merely sharpening knives that were whittled down to nothing years ago? In gardening terms, are our gardens acts of loving co-creation, or obsessions that over rule our thoughts and deeds? The key to simplification is balance, a good idea on the pathway through life.

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