Tiered Up

My gardening challenge this weekend: figuring out what to do with an area of tumbledown rocks and boulders that abruptly drop about eight feet in height from top to bottom. My plan is to try to use the enormous rocks and the drastic change in height to establish tiers dropping down the slope like the steps of a staircase. The tiers will then become beds where I can plant flowers and attempt to replant some of the lupines, rose bushes, and ferns that have sprung up in some of our other garden beds.

So far I’ve placed some smaller rocks to define the outlines of the tiers, using the big rocks as immovable borders, and have started shoveling dirt into the newly created spaces to form the beds. This weekend I hope to complete the bed formation and do the rose bush and fern replants. The weather is supposed to be nice, so I should have two full days for the work.

This is the kind of project I really like. There’s a creativity element to it, some problem-solving and design challenges, a physical labor component, and then finally a chance to see if an experiment succeeds or fails. I’m looking forward to getting to it.

Pity The Poor Weed?

Today I spent an hour in the backyard, weeding.  We’d gotten some rain, so the soil was moist, making it a prime weeding opportunity.  As I bent over, trying to use my garden tool to find the roots of the weeds and pop them out of the ground — because you always want to get the root, of course — I cursed mightily at the humidity, and my aching back, and mostly at the unsightly weeds themselves.

And then I wondered — is there any living thing more reviled, more roundly cursed, more uniformly despised by one and all than a Midwestern weed?

Consider this awful dandelion that had taken root in our garden beds.  It’s an exceptionally ugly plant, with its broad, sharp leaves that look like the blade of a rusty hacksaw.  I first noticed it last weekend but didn’t get to it until today, and in the intervening week it spread like a fungus to cover more territory.  It’s a tenacious plant, too, hugging the ground and stubbornly resisting all efforts to pull it out by the roots and kill it once and for all.  After some careful searching I found the root and gently pulled it whole from the damp soil.  I felt a glowing sense of accomplishment as I removed the unsightly blemish from the beds, dropped the weed and its roots into a lawn refuse bag, and then moved on to do battle with the thistles, chickweed, mallow, and other thorny, repulsive broadleaf invaders trying to ruin my garden and yard.

I paused for a moment, though, to straighten up my creaking back and ponder the poor weed.  It doesn’t know it’s hated and unwanted, I realized — it’s just trying to survive as best it can, wherever it can.  Perhaps, I thought, there is value in weeds?  Perhaps they provide the sharp contrast that allows us to better appreciate the beauty of flowers and boxwoods and hostas?  Perhaps their presence makes us more industrious, by incentivizing us to go out in the fresh air and do some productive work.  Perhaps the weed, rather than being reflexively hated, should be pitied . . . and even admired?

Nah!  It’s weeds we’re talking about, and I would happily do without them. So I moved on and thrust my garden tool into the ground at the base of the next offender, found the root, and pulled it out with relish.

The Gardens Of The Cummer

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The Cummer Museum is a Jacksonville jewel that Kish and I visited yesterday while Richard was working and Russell was painting. It’s got a very nice collection of traditional and contemporary art, pieces that deal with Florida and its indigenous people, furniture, fine china, and even fashion, which made a ramble through its room a pleasant series of eclectic surprises.

Behind the museum are several gardens that back up to the St. Johns River. There is an orderly English garden, an Italian garden (pictured above), a tea garden, and an upper and lower Olmsted garden. All are beautiful on a sunny day. The capstone of the garden area, however, is a huge, ancient, gnarled oak tree that must be hundreds of years old. Its mossy limbs sprawl out in every direction, touching the ground and some even being partially covered by a layer of ground cover. It’s magnificent, and a picture really can’t do it justice.

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A Reason To Take 8th Grade Geometry

We sat huddled in Mrs. Jackman’s 8th grade geometry class at Hastings Junior High, learning the names of differently shaped solids and how to calculate their volumes, discussing the value of pi and the Pythagorean theorem and other equations, all the while wondering when in the hell we would ever use this self-evidently useless information.

Little did we know that Mrs. Jackman’s diligent instruction would have equipped us to nod yes if Louis XIV had asked us to design the extensive, jaw-dropping gardens at the palace at Versailles!  But in fact those gardens — from their layouts, to their perspectives to the far horizon, to the shapes in which shrubs are trimmed, are all about using geometry, geometry, and more geometry.

In my view, the gardens at Versailles are far more interesting and memorable than the palace.  You can only see so much gilt, and take in so many paintings and busts of Louis XIV, and experience so many vaulted ceilings and marble floors, before you experience sensory overload and ultimate disinterest.

But the gardens!  They are full of wonder and surprises. Who would have thought that geometric lines and shapes could be so enjoyable and, in the case of shrubs, even a bit silly and whimsical?

Mrs. Jackman, who considered geometry to be a very serious topic and applied a no-nonsense approach to her teaching, might not have approved, but I chuckled with delight as Richard and I strolled through the gardens and enjoyed the different shapes and patterns that lay around every corner.  The fact is, geometric lines and shapes are pleasing to the eye and to the mind.  The gardens at Versailles are extraordinarily beautiful not just because of the flowers, and fountains, and canals, but because they are laid out in a precise geometric fashion.  The gardens convey the neatness, and order, and patterns that the human brain craves.

Sunday Visitors

As we approach the end of summer and feel the first chills of approaching autumn, it’s crucial to hang on to the last few sultry moments of the fading season.  So it was today, as we are enjoying a day of clear weather with the temperature in the 70s and brilliant sunshine.

It was a good day to go out and nose around the colorful garden beds ringing our brick patio.  We planted marigolds there at the end of May, and they have thrived through the initial rainy days and more recently through many dry days, growing thick and bursting with color.  The flowers almost look like beds of glowing coals, filled with bright golds, rich oranges, deep crimsons, and other dazzling shades of yellow and red.

I find the flowers irresistible on a warm sunny day, and I am not alone:  bumblebees and butterflies, intoxicated by the heady scent of pollen, also were out in force, working hard and getting a snootful of the flowers.  Bees in particular are fascinating to watch.  The phrase “busy as a bee” is apt.  They move single-mindedly from flower to flower, put a steady grip on the petals, and thrust their heads deep into the recesses of the flowers.  They are wholly oblivious to nearby humans.

Butterflies, on the other hand, are like nervous suitors dressed in their Sunday finest.  With colorful markings on their wings in full display, the butterflies flit from flower to flower, alighting for a few moments as if staying only for a brief dalliance.  They quickly go about their business, but when the shadow of a human being crosses their path they immediately flutter away, dipping and swerving, to land again a few flowers away — and the whole act begins all over again.