Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween: Night of the Unexpected

An electrical line runs diagonally across my property, powering the house next door. It aerially bisects my stone patio, and thus offers an indispensable clue as to the origins of the errant trio of unusually colored chrysanthemums—coral, lavender, and melon—that appeared just below between rocks. A bird, perching on the wire after a delectable feast, deposited its waste, and voila! A veritable visual treat, an imagined aural amusement, a string trio in C minor—the key of heroic struggle.

I haven’t the heart to silence that little trio, but will, next spring (should they survive the winter) transplant them to more appropriate places in the garden.

My intended action comes as an assault on the unintentional, which is what gardening is (try though many gardeners do to produce a verifiable naturalism). And that is why, I think, we should delight in the chance occurrences in the garden.

So imagine my surprise each day when I spy a new arrangement, another appearance of that quintessential Halloween accoutrement: the pumpkin.

This pumpkin, however, did not sprout from a seed—at least not the kind that one plants in the ground(!).  Very much like the untied statues of Daedalus, this pumpkin moves about.

Our pumpkin, of course, could never be tethered. He, like the seeds of the chrysanthemum, appears where he must, and flourishes where he will. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Adult Pleasures V: Lust

“In chaste hearts uninfluenced by the power
of outward change, there blooms a deathless flower.”

--Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564)

We associate New York with many things: the arts, the avant garde, chic boutiques, Broadway, Fifth Avenue, food, gridlock, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, overcrowding, publishing, skyscrapers, space (or lack thereof), the Twin Towers, Wall Street, wealth, the United Nations, and ever so much more. Lust perhaps belongs on that list, too, though lust and sexual desires more generally may have had a more prominent showing on this list of associations before Koch and Giuliani’s crusade to clean up Times Square and replace the local “Debbie Does Dallas” retinue with Disney.

Lust: Christians condemn it (Aquinas called it a ‘deformity’, ‘pollution'), Buddhists banish it (any form of desire is the root of suffering), and Hindus decree it a gate to Naraka or hell.

To us moderns, however, lust assumes a less evocative, less lasciviousness meaning, and a simple search will yield it as a synonym for intense desire, craving, or longing. But, owing to the stigma of its antecedents, even the modern incarnations invariably speak to carnal urges.

And so on a recent day trip to New York, that city’s sin seared into my consciousness, a peculiar rapaciousness overtook me from the depths of my being. I began to lust.

Yes. It began as an inadvertent meeting—as all such romances seem to do. I sauntered into the La Guardia Corner Community Gardens (the southwest corner of LaGuardia and West 3rd) on a lovely Sunday in September, and there he was: a very fine specimen of Japanese masculinity. I gasped quite audibly—so loudly in fact that the woman in several feet in front of me turned and said, “Oh yes, he’s a beauty.”

And then it hit me--or rather he hit me. I lost what felt like my consciousness, and impulsively dropped to my knees to partake in whatever sensory experiences he might permit. And that same woman purred, with a sly smile across her face, “Yes, he has that effect.”

One needs to do that with Tricyrtis formosana ‘Samurai’ toad lily because the flowers come only in miniature. One really must plant them along the garden path, for even two feet from the path they become lost.

And what sparkle he brings to the autumn shade garden; what dazzling display of foliage (reminiscent, I think, of Solomon’s Seal or Disporum flavens Asian Fairy Bells)! He tempts; he performs; he elevates the mood as you stare deeply into his flowers and focus on his chenille-like stigma and contemplate his existence whilst rubbing your fingers along his slightly hairy stems. The whole experience arouses and one cannot help but feel lust surging deep from within, pulsating and running its course through your veins.   

Obviously, I am not alone: Michelangelo, strange New York City woman, me, and countless others I presume.

Lust has without doubt been a subtext throughout this blog, and indeed I am convinced that the backbone of any good garden and gardener owes to substantial doses of lust.

Lust in gardening does not share with human romantic or sexual lust. If the adage "you may look as long as you don't touch" applies in the realm of the latter, it most certainly does not apply in the realm of the former. The gardener can lust and touch and obtain and caress as much as s/he desires.

I now search for Toad Lily, my appetite insatiable, my desires as yet unfulfilled. And so I look forward to reporting to you, my dear reader, to Viet, and most importantly to myself that I have “bought myself a little happy,” mortgage notwithstanding.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

There are mistakes, and there are Mistakes

What’s wrong with this picture?


Yes, I see it too.

The white chrysanthemum draws too much attention to itself; it is the gardening equivalent of rusted pickup trucks on the front lawn. Okay, I exaggerate. But true, it does announce itself with excessive aplomb. It fails to relate to or converse with any part of the garden, or with the surrounding environs (unlike the white chrysanthemum in the front garden, engaged as it were in an intimate tête-à-tête with the Variegated Siberian Iris and harvest gold mum). My harsher critic will enthusiastically add that the others do not engage as well. While I grant the criticism of the placement of the white chrysanthemum, I defend my choices with regard to those others: there is a conversation between the burgundy and harvest gold chrysanthemums and the wider autumn landscape. Even if their hues are the vocal equivalent of a scream, they do speak the vernacular of this week’s peak foliage.

Some would no doubt call that white mum a mistake, and certainly my harsh inner critic (ask my students; that critic is alive and well) has already chastised me. But in gardening, there are few mistakes. Honestly. Really. And I do not write that as thinly veiled self-defense.

Take for instance an article in Real Simple which featured an article on avoiding its readers’ “top 10 gardening mistakes.” The list includes: (1) planting a garden in “the wrong spot” (the article failed to convey a proper meaning of this; it seems the problem addressed in the article was a drainage one, not a ‘gardening in a wrong spot’ issue); (2) accidentally pulling flowers instead of weeds (RS’s solution—GASP—use the nursery tags to identify cliche and utterly tacky); (3) not preparing the soil (RS’s solution: add organic compost); (4) over-watering (yes, a mistake, but an easily remedied one); (5) planting an invasive variety (my solution: rip it out if it bothers you); (6) not taking wildlife into account (RS’s solution: install a fence and keep wildlife out; no mention was made of planting bulbs—a delicacy for squirrels and other rodents—deeper, which actually has the effect of prolonging the life of the bulb); (7) not giving plants enough sun (the focus is completely improper on this one, as if the gardener has any control on how much sun a plant receives; the gardener’s job is to plant the appropriate plant in a given spot—and thus to do some research prior to embarking on a gardening venture); (8) spreading too many seeds (again, rip out the excess); (9) using too much pesticide (here, the article gives useful advice: use a mixture of hot water and vinegar instead of deploying chemical weapons); and, finally, (10) planting too close together which, on my view, is the root of #8 and perhaps even of #5, and is definitely a Mistake (with a capital M, and not a mistake of the pedestrian sort like all of these others).

To be fair, drainage and soil quality are critical to the gardening enterprise, and deserve attention—much more than the article gave them. But the other bits relate to common sense, which seems very much in short supply these days. We want answers, and we want them now. There is no problem necessarily in that. But, at the risk of offense, I do see a problem in not thinking. There is a reason why nurseries place those little plastic identity tags in pots: NOT so you can use them in the garden itself (you can, but you run the risk of being scoffed and laughed at behind your back by all those neighbors), but to discern plant needs with respect to sun, soil, moisture, and spacing, as well as bloom time. Taking 45 seconds to read the plastic tag will eliminate all of the problems with the possible exception of #6 (some of those little plastic diddies will actually note “deer resistant”).

See? There are few mistakes in gardening. Just as we can rely on those plastic tags, I can move my white chrysanthemum; mistakes, schmistakes.

But there are Mistakes, and mistake #10 gets at what I mean. I identify two. The first involves planting trees and shrubs too close together or to houses and other structures. I do not include most other plants in this brief list, because moving them is an easy affair. This Mistake only becomes apparent after the plants are too large to move, and after the only remedy involves use of a hacksaw or a bulldozer.

Curiously, the first Mistake is actually driven by the second: failing to realistically plan.

True, we are overcome with fantasy and lust, desire and urges. We actually do plan, but our plan is a figment of a conceptual imagination gone awry. We envision garden rooms differentiated by live-walls of boxwood or shrubs; we envision a lush, mature garden. And then we act on the image by planting the architectural core plants too close together, or too close to the house, because the space between young plants is unseemly, unbecoming, nay, amateurish. We seek to hasten our future images not with a dose of realism but with the immediacy of delusion. We fail, in short, to account for overcrowding, diminished sunshine as a result of overcrowding, foliage damage, damage caused by roots, and the like.

These are real Mistakes: real because they are almost irremediable. 

The others: well…those are mistakes of the garden variety, so to speak.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

“A Thoughtful Garden”

For 40 years, Robin Lane Fox has graced the pages of The Financial Times with his weekly, witty garden column. And “graced” is an apt expression—for he was hired by the irascible editor precisely to enliven the hitherto aseptic Wednesday edition of the FT.

In honor of those 40 years, Fox takes us on a rare tour of his Oxfordshire garden—and with it offers us a dazzling display not simply of color and texture, but of erudition and sardonic wit. This tour is unlike any other you may have experienced: Helen of Troy; a badger’s feast of Prozac and peanut butter; a biographical sketch of FT’s tyrannical editor—all (and more) make an appearance! This really is a must-see, and you can access it here.

Fox has also assembled and rewritten many of those columns in a book entitled Thoughtful Gardening. The American edition has not yet been released, but my dear reader must already have deduced that I am submitting an advance order.

In 2009, I began a series of entries in my journal devoted to particular plants in my garden—entries that I thought I’d share during the wintertime when life in the garden takes its hiatus. In the spirit of Fox, I offer here a profile of Tanacetum parthenium (a.k.a. Feverfew or Bachelor’s Buttons).

“Feverfew: its compact clusters of bright white flowers with a center crown of yellow remind of daisies; its leaf shape, citrus scented, evokes chrysanthemum (of course; they belong to the same Asteraceae family). Feverfew appeared in the garden last year [2008]—I did not plant it—next to the Boxwood, and did well, but remained fairly compact. This year [2009]—well, it blossomed in the company of others; it is now of gigantic proportions, well over two feet in height, and I had to stake it yesterday. Feverfew is native to Eurasia (specifically the Balkan, Anatolia, and Caucus regions) and has been used to treat fevers, headaches, and arthritis, hence its common name derivation from the Latin febrifugia (meaning “acting to reduce or cure fever”), itself a compound of febris (fever) and the verb fugare (put to flight, chase away).
Tanacetum, the Latin for immortality, might give more than a clue as to its designation as “an obnoxious weed,” for its invasive tendency must be countered with the utmost vigilance. But Tanacetum derives etymologically from the Latin for death, Thanatos. The Greeks and Romans associated the plant with the underworld, for the plant either mimics the smell of a corpse or masks the smell of a corpse—the literature prevaricates on this one (though I must come down on the side of the latter for no corpse I’ve smelled reeks of citrus). Parthenium owes to a tale told by Plutarch about a mason worker who fell from the roof of the Parthenon as it was being built, and who was treated with this particular plant, at the time called the Virgin’s Plant, or Partheneum [note to self: Athena, for whom the Parthenon was erected, might be history’s first, most famous virgin].

So here we have in this one, not-so-little plant the confluence of opposition: Tanacetum parthenium, one name signifying immortality, the other on death. Surely, we must dub this “Hegel’s gal,” for in it we find the perfect dialectic, the use of Feverfew a perfect synthesis: medicinal herbs, medicine, and the art of tending and caring bind life and death into a coherent whole. A plant with so much mythology simply deserves, no matter how obnoxiously invasive it is, to be grown in the garden.”

Friday, October 22, 2010

The F-Word

That word, a phenomenon so horrendous we gardeners dare not speak its name.

Yes, the F-word.

No, not that one. The other one.


Frost is in the northern Delaware forecast this evening. But part of me is not convinced. This has happened previously (of course), though not yet this season: a condemning forecast, yet city gardens remain protected (often until rather late in the season) while surrounding gardens, properties, lawns, and suburbs sparkle a brilliant white.

This day, though, seems different. The Hunters Moon, which woke me in the wee hours of the morning, its luminescence peering through thick velvet curtains, seems a chilling caricature of itself. Daytime highs will reach only into the mid 50s, and nighttime lows will plunge into the mid 30s. Frost just feels a possibility

My professional life will occupy me today, leaving very little time when I return to make equally chilling decisions: which lives to save, which lives to allow to pass quietly into the night…
I don’t like these kinds of decisions; I don’t know of any gardeners who do. Yet most gardeners I know also have cultivated a particular kind of resilience, a nonchalance, towards such death. Next year will bring another gardening season and more plants; thus you save those you prefer. Yet I freeze (pun intended?) in the face of my divine like power.

Preferences: contingent on individual taste, and taste is stymieing my decisions. I happen to love my deep yellow lantana which I overwintered last year and which rewarded me this season with spectacular plenitude of foliage and flower. I love the ruby red flowers of my Pineapple Sage, a gift from my friends, the inimitable mother-daughter duo, Jane and Jenn. My patchouli and lemon grass—not exactly Zone 7 plants—have flourished. And what do I do with what I assume to be my Omure yama Matsumurae Japanese maple (under which Simone sits), the pendulous branches of which extend far beyond the pot and occupy significant space? I haven’t room in the house for all of those plants (most of which have become quite large).
This is why I need and want an all-season sunroom.

Until we add this dream to 410 or buy another house with one or space to add one, though, I need to make difficult life or death decisions, and act the Leviathan to my garden.


So, this afternoon in the waning hours of daylight, neighbors shall witness a harried MSW racing to and fro, condemning some plants to death, granting reprieve to others. As I mused in a previous entry, gardening is such morally trying work.
And if the frost comes, the neighborhood will be sure to hear me utter that other F-word, the F-word that Rahm Emmanuel made infamously famous. 

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Adult Pleasures IV: Deception

I have decided to violate my professional and personal ethics by doing something I’ve never done before: outing an entire family.

Yes, outing them, revealing to the world what they really are.

The Asteraceaes are the deceivers—the glamour girls, the dream girls, many of the drag queens, and the Hollywood sparkle—of the gardening world, their spectacle always an ostentatious Moulin Rouge production designed for Victorian prudes, a dazzling and daring Broadway to pedestrian and staid Main Street.

How could they not be, with personalities like dahlias (and dinner plate sized dahlias!), sunflowers, daisies, chrysanthemums, asters, marigolds, zinnias, heleniums, and yes, Taraxacums, better known to us as the nemesis of the suburban manicured lawn, the dandelion.

Like any large family, the Asteraceaes fragment into tribes, and between the tribes we see a constant, if somehow always an improbably congruous, bickering. This is showmanship—or show-womanship—at its best! As if Phantom of the Opera were pitched against Wicked (when in fact they really are sui generis), and the one is always trying to outdo the other. Ah, sibling rivalry.

Truth be told, appearance and essence diverge in the House of Asteraceae—and it is this deceptive trait, modified by attendant flamboyance, they all share. If those in the family know how to do something really well besides daze and dizzy, it is their mastery of the art of inflorescence. It’s as if the Asteraceaes choose to reside in the Platonic cave, enthralled by their own skill of deceit. What looks to be a flower in the singular (technically, the capitula) is in essence an orgy of sessile flowers sharing the same receptacle, which, when you think about it, is rather akin to a dressing room at a Broadway show—or prostitutes sharing the same pimp-daddy. Whichever metaphor works for you, I suppose…

The Greeks in their infinite wisdom revealed the M.O. of the House of Asteraceae ever so long ago—“Pseudoanthium, Pseudoanthium ,” the Greeks declared, “False Flower! False Flower!” Long before Hester Prynne and her prickly Puritanical contemporaries, we have evidence that the original scarlet letter was not “A” but π (no wonder I hate math). False eyelashes, false boobs, false flowers: whatever is a girl to do?! Occasionally we do ignore ancient knowledge (really, we moderns, or posties for some of you, are often, incorrigibly, blinded by our arrogance); we persist in calling that capitula a flower; we persist in deceiving ourselves.

The optimist will simply declare, “No matter:” now is the time to wear your scarlet π, or, for that matter, your autumn russet, harvest gold, burnt sienna, or burgundy π, and relish this last dazzling display from the House of Asteraceae, this time by the dahlias and the chrysanthemums, for soon the frosts will come and we will only have our memories to fill the barren garden spaces before us.

Ah, deception: modernity’s perennial promise, our gift to ourselves. 
Or is it?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Love in the Time of Chrysanthemum

“White mums, yellow mums
And even the moon
Autumn ending.”


When I was 22, I fell deeply in love. It had not the ephebic quality of that which I had hitherto experienced—embellished feelings that hinged on everlasting love and that illimitable sense of possibility, the overwrought despair and the accompanying spiral into an abysmal phantasmagoria when the lust object dumped me, and the rediscovery of inflated romanticism when another unsuspecting fool became the object of my affections.

No. This was love, not lust, and it ran deep.

Those others merely approached the Urbino to my new love’s Florentino.

Truth be told, my love object made my affections easier, for the inanimate cannot by definition requite. My love object was Japan.

In retrospect, I surmise Japan satisfied my innate, obsessive needs—needs that, I would like to think, have relaxed over time—for order, tradition, and civility (even if that civility is merely superficial, a form of etiquette) and thus provided me what emotionally, psychologically, and intellectually I required to further become a self.

Each autumn when the chrysanthemums bloom I am reminded of the love that blossomed so long ago, a love that perhaps shook me from my foundations as it separated me from who I was and allowed me movement towards who I could be.

In retrospect, I ask myself: how could I not love Japan? The country lives my own order-focused neuroses (with all due respect). But more seriously, the country celebrates Kiku no Sekku, The Chrysanthemum Festival (also rendered as Kiku Matsuri), on the 9th day of the 9th month (which has a more poetic quality than simply writing 9 September).  Here is a country that celebrates its national flower; what’s not to love?!

Over 2,500 years ago, the Chinese began to cultivate the chrysanthemum. One sage philosopher apparently found the key to happiness: “If you would be happy for a lifetime, grow Chrysanthemums.” (Might this be the root of the mass proliferation of chrysanthemums at this time of year? In supermarkets, garden centers, K-Marts, Targets, grocery stores, specialty stores, and hardware stores? Who thought happiness could be so inexpensive?)  

The Song Dynasty poet Su Dongpo even advised that we

"Eat the shoots in the spring
leaves in the summer
flowers in the fall
and roots in the winter.”

Its introduction to Japan in the 8th century apparently was quite epic, for by 910 A.D., on some accounts, the imperial court began to hold chrysanthemum expositions. By the 1300s, as I mentioned in a previous entry, the Emperor adopted a 16 petal version of the flower as its symbol, its Kikumon (meaning Chrysanthemum Crest).

Crests of chrysanthemums now appear in my garden, waves of them inundating the space and revitalizing the autumn garden: a pale lavender (nearly four feet tall!), a rich burgundy and a brilliant Miranda Orange, purple, whites, and brilliant harvest golds, and, embedded between the stones of my patio, a few errant chrysanthemums (their seeds most likely deposited by birds) of lavender and rustic or rusty coral, the latter of which perfectly parallels the autumnal, burnt mauve of the few residual Lady in Red Hydrangea florets.

Chrysanthemums have a particular, je ne sais quoi, quality, most pithily captured by the unnamed Chinese sage. Perhaps it is the infusion of life and color to the last weeks of the garden that, like love, gives us hope. Perhaps, like the yellow flag of cholera, they separate us from the wildly fleeting wider world, suspending time, and giving us precious moments to reflect on that which simply is.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

⅝ of an inch: On the Measure of Things

21 grams: the apparent weight of the soul, or, the amount of weight lost when the human body dies

50% in 23 (a.k.a. “The Birthday Paradox”): the probability that 2 people in a randomly assembled group of 23 people share the same birthday--a probability that jumps to 99% in a group of 57 randomly assembled people

⅝ of 1 inch: the amount of rain that fell on Sunday morning, 12 September 2010, at 410—our first significant rain in over a month, a rain that awoke me with its most unusual sound, a sound that had been absent since early spring…

Mr. Froggie rain gauge, a gift bestowed upon me by my friends and neighbors Warren and Hamid for securing tenure and promotion, stands proudly in the garden as a testament to my fixation with measuring all things probable and improbable—a fixation that has yet to infiltrate my professional life, which, conversely, is fixated as it were on all things qualitative.

Measurement in our lives takes many forms:

▪ birthday-induced accountings of our accomplishments during the previous year;
▪ employment of Excel spreadsheets to measure how we live our lives (ahem…those who know me will know the neurotic truth behind this statement);
▪ goals we set for ourselves;
▪ advancements and promotions at work; and the like.

But somehow, despite our best conceived plans, life does happen to us—and sometimes quite unexpectedly. And so, because of the unpredictability of life, we come to rely on a particular kind of measurement: the palpable and the empirical, in short, the verifiable. Our lives and the passage of them obtain greater certitude, perhaps for some even greater clarity, when measured and accounted for in the myriad and infinity of ways possible.

The measurement of a garden is a much more difficult endeavor—but then I always thought the measurement of the soul was an improbable exercise, and yet it seems to have been done. 

Do we measure the garden by the number of beds we create, the acreage the gardens occupy, the number of specimens grown, the balance between herbaceous and woody plants, or its seasonal manifestations and attributes? Or do we measure the garden by types of (emotional, psychological, intellectual) iterative responses it elicits from visitors, the aesthetic judgments of others (with due regard paid to arrangement defined in terms of texture, color, and form) or the meaning gardens give to our lives? In all of those cases, measurement remains perfectly imprecise, for none of the variables captures the essences of a garden or the act of gardening.  But taken together, all of the variables bring us closer to the measurement of a garden—its worth, its value, its very meaning.

No matter: the garden needs few measurements to succeed or to Be. Mr Froggie offers that kind of necessary, yet understated, measurement central to cultivating a lovely garden. Like good friends, indeed, like the friends who gave me this most perfect and precious of gifts, Mr. Froggie and all other kinds of measurement reside perfectly and unassumingly in the background, always there to be relied upon, always there to share, always there to graft meaning onto and into our own lives. 

** For Warren and Hamid, in friendship ** 

Friday, October 8, 2010

Color in the Garden: Rust

Rust is not a word most gardeners like: for rust is a fungus more unsightly than lethal, a scourge that turns viridescent leaves a spotty mess, a vile assault on your gardening prowess by denuding stems. 

Rust is not a word that automobile owners like either: it is testament to the corrosive effects of time, let alone the insufficient efforts of our care.

But the rust I refer to is that quintessential color of autumn, that magical color that plays upon orange and red and yellow. Rust: a composite of hues, a symbol of the passing of life in one season and the emergence of life in another.

Rust is the color of memory and nostalgia.  Rust evokes a past, reminds us of that which was, and blends so perfectly those senses of mourning and happiness: rust is the color of wabi-sabi.

I experience rust as bright, energetic, and alive. It is a dance, an odd movement of the body, a celebration of form and substance, color and symbol, life and death. Yet in this dance and in the midst of frenetic movement, I do not advance; I remain situated, stationary. The movement is internal.

I ask myself: am I supposed to move or remain here? Supposed to release myself, to lose inhibitions? Is there a destination? But the destination has yet to announce itself. If ethereal white forces you out of yourself, and provocative yellow thrashes you about, then rust embeds and envelops. Rust seems to announce itself as the unfolding layers of life, an exposition of time, a metamorphosis, a becoming.

And as such, rust in the garden cannot be set by itself. It needs the company of others, for it is through contrast and complement that rust obtains its aesthetic prominence and its impact. The rubicund undertones of my rust colored chrysanthemum are accentuated by placement next to the burgundy chrysanthemum. The hue of this Autumn Fern frond, just beginning to turn its brilliant rust, is accentuated by the rosy overtones of the one vibrant Nikko Blue Hydrangea. And the panicles of Northern Sea Oats Grass have passed beyond their reddening vibrancy and settled into a burnt bronze autumnal finish. 

Metamorphoses, it seems, only become apparent in the company of others.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

On Reliability

I have never had the pleasure (such sarcasm!) of employing contractors to renovate or construct, to add to or subtract from any parts of my house. But many friends have done so, and each one relates the universal tale of the irresponsible, unresponsive, lackadaisical contractor—the one who shows up when he feels like it, as if he is doing you a favor.
Until now.

In a previous blog entry, I discussed plans to redesign the East Side Shade Bed (hereinafter referred to as the ESSB?). The ESSB needs height and year-round architectural interest. Months ago, I purchased the handsome Kerria japonica, but he has not fared well in this summer of extremes (not to mention the poor soil in which I planted his roots). And did he protest! As protestors of any sort always attract, Kerria was soon the paramour of many a leaf-eating insect, which resulted in a veritable orgy that stripped him nude. His lovely green-yellow bones, with nary a leaf to guard his now exposed nakedness, are the only reminders of a plant that once thrived, of a masculine fortitude that refuses to succumb.

And so the garden contractor moved him to the center of the ESSB, sure to ground his roots in rich compost.

And by a stroke of serendipity, I found a Serrated Japanese Laurel (Sawtooth Aucuba japonica Serratifolia, pictured below) at the garden center, days after writing about desired, non-deciduous, non-conifer, shade-loving shrubs to situate in the ESSB. And the contractor planted that at the end of the bed nearest to the entrance to the rear garden. The ESSB was beginning to take shape.

But then the August heat and humidity returned, and garden renovations were put on hold. This was understandable, of course, as plants do not like to be transplanted in extreme conditions.
And then classes began, and the contractor once again failed to work.

And then I bought Shenandoah Switch Grass to create a new bed to border the stone patio, and planted those. I found two dwarf Firepower Nandinas to fill in the space between the grasses—once the bed is filled in, this will create a perfect medium-height wall, thus creating a distinct patio garden room—but those remain above ground. What were the excuses this time? Other work, and the Thursday-Friday remnants of Tropical Storm Nicole, which dumped 4 and 5/8 inches of rain on the gardens at 410. Today, Saturday, was to be an intense gardening day, with most of the renovations and new plantings tobe completed.

But the contractor is now sick.

Yes, sick. It’s always something, it seems. Good help is hard to come by these days, and reliability is a vanishing virtue.  We can really only rely on ourselves.

But, dear reader, I must let you in on a little secret. The problem is that the contractor is me. As much as I love gardening, and as much as gardening keeps me sane, life has perpetually interfered with my renovation plans.  I cannot even rely on myself.

And yes, that sound you just heard was me sighing, an indication of deep annoyance with my own indolence and frustration that the only contractor I could rely upon is, well, unreliable.