Friday, December 23, 2011

Facing the Winter Blues and Winter Whites

After an extended autumn, winter cold is finally descending upon us from the Arctic. My more northerly-based friends will surely scoff at what constitutes this first bout of sustained freezing temperatures, but as with many things in life our cold is relative to what is "normal" here in the Arc-land of New Castle County, Delaware.

Now that many of the winter holidays have passed us (the Winter Solstice, Yalda, Yule, Saturnalia, Hannukah, Christmas, St. Stephen's Day, Boxing Day, Diwali) with only the revelry of New Year's Eve facing us down, we are left to conquer winter--the bulk of which lies before us--with own own devices.

How silent and barren our world has become, compared to our perpetual assailing since before Halloween by the sights and sounds of Christmas: a bombastic proliferation of lights and decorations, a babel of carols, a veritable capitalist orgy of merry making to remind us (aided of course by media reports on "the economy" and weekly retail sales figures) that we have not yet shopped enough, we have not yet dug that debt hole as deeply as others would want.

Yes: January and February seem bleak by comparison. They feel forsaken. Whoever planned the calendar did not do such a good job, leaving us in a lurch as it were. Sure, we have Martin Luther King Day (which for many simply means a mid-January 3-day weekend) and then Valentine's Day--which means not an official respite from work but an appropriation of love, a materialization of an intangible: declare your love with roses, chocolate, jewelry, and haute cuisine, for love itself will not do; indeed, screwed you are (and not in the good sense) if you fail to regale your love-object with treats.  

I find some comfort, therefore, in a certain carol: Good King Wenceslas, which seems a fitting tale not merely in the deadness of winter, but also in these Occupy/99% times and post-Havel world. The song celebrates the generosity of a Bohemian duke (907 - September 28, 935) who gave out alms to the poor, and whose footsteps through the deep snows of the Pannonian Plain and Bohemian forest enabled his page, who nearly succumbed to the cold, to continue.

Neither the religious overtones of the tale, nor the Santa-like image in which King Wenceslas has been portrayed, nor even its Valentine's Day undertones (Wenceslas, driven by his love of the Bohemian people informed his benevolent rule, so his hagiographies say) captivate me, however.

I rather find solace in the music. The lyrics of Good King Wenceslas were composed by an English hymnwriter, John Mason Neale, in 1853 and set to a 13th century carol that heralded the arrival of spring. No one knows how or why Tempus Adest Floridum became the basis for what would become a popular Christmas song, but it did. And thankfully so. Otherwise, this jovial tune may have been lost in the passage of time.

So as you look out onto the winter-scape, despairing the dearth of holidays and the weariness brought on by the incessant cold, hum the music, sing along with its 13th century lyrics, and think of the the coming of spring flowers.

Spring has now unwrapped the flowers, day is fast reviving,
Life in all her growing powers towards the light is striving:
Gone the iron touch of cold, winter time and frost time,
Seedlings, working through the mould, now make up for lost time.

Herb and plant that, winter long, slumbered at their leisure,
Now bestirring, green and strong, find in growth their pleasure;
All the world with beauty fills, gold the green enhancing,
Flowers make glee among the hills, set the meadows dancing.

Through each wonder of fair days God Himself expresses;
Beauty follows all His ways, as the world He blesses:
So, as He renews the earth, Artist without rival,
In His grace of glad new birth we must seek revival.

Earth puts on her dress of glee; flowers and grasses hide her;
We go forth in charity—brothers all beside her;
For, as man this glory sees in th’awakening season,
Reason learns the heart’s decrees, hearts are led by reason.

Praise the Maker, all ye saints; He with glory girt you,
He Who skies and meadows paints fashioned all your virtue;
Praise Him, seers, heroes, kings, heralds of perfection;
Brothers, praise Him, for He brings all to resurrection!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Bowing Out and taking leave...

Yesterday, I began to write about the death of Christopher Hitchens (essayist, debater, journalist, critic, author, intellectual) but could not complete my thoughts. I needed more time to think.

Later in the day, the media reported that Cesaria Evora, the "Barefoot Diva" of Cape Verde who graced us with her soulful Crioulo, had died.

And this morning, while perusing the online newspapers, breaking news alerts began to announce the virtually unthinkable: Vaclav Havel, the dissident playwright, last president of a Czechoslovakia that fell back upon itself and into history during and as a result of the "Velvet Divorce," and first president of the new Czech Republic, poet, intellectual, soul, died at the age of 75.

Havel has bowed out, his last performance--which was his only performance, his life--being his best.

My generation grew up in the era of Reagan and Thatcher, but it was, too, the era of Mikhail Gorbachev and Lech Walesa, James Baker and Vaclav Havel, and yes, even of Diana, Princess of Wales. (Oh, how much of our lives was framed around the ending of the Cold War, and the optimism that came with being liberated from shackles of reified thinking.) Havel's death for me was unthinkable precisely because he was larger than life, much like Gorbachev and even, though many will chastise me, Lady Thatcher herself.  Though, in the end, we know all of them, all of us, are mere mortals, some more plagued by doubts and scandals and lapses in judgment than others. But unthinkable, still, because they become, for better or for worse, part of us. Each generation must, I think, consider its leaders and select its icons (political, social, cultural) based on this feeling and judgment: they, who are often born in a different era and shaped by different experiences, help define us.

Gradually, then, as each one passes, the vestiges of our childhoods and young adult years pass with them, and we are forced to confront our own precarious grip on life. Perhaps that is the more unthinkable aspect of this landscape of mortality we are all forced to tread upon.

Gradually, that landscape appears increasingly...not hollow...but emptied, and because emptied, hollowed: if our inhabited landscapes of friendship and communities are infrequently punctuated by absences and leavings, then over time it is the infrequency of personages who punctuate the vast absences. Only structures and spaces remain.

So it is with the garden. Each autumn, we watch as first the annuals--by definition fragile--vanish after an evening chill. Then the more sensitive of the perennials (the Astilbes and, over time, the vast hosta family) take their leave, followed, almost always finally, by the hardiest of the perennials--those show queens from the House of Asteraceae (the asters and the chrysanthemums and the Feverfew) who would not dare willingly part with the limelight that becomes solely their own so late in the gardening season. Who could blame them.

This year, as I've noted, our unusually temperate autumn has produced an oddity: even 2 days ago, the Creeping phlox offered unseasonal blooms, the geraniums remained resplendent, the peonies and daffodils were sending out shoots, the Climbing Hydrangea began to bud out, and the Toad Lily reappeared after a brief disappearance. Yet more "fitting" December weather beginning late Friday is proving to be the curtain call to the 2011 garden, and thus for all those hardy souls and all those early risers to bow out and take their leave.

In botanical terms, though, most return.

In human terms, we only have that which remains.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

"Haul out the Holly"

I have a friend--let's call him, oh, Warren--who seems to know every lyric and every line from every musical ever written.

Exaggeration? Perhaps. But ask him.

So, I have a quiz. Are you ready, Warren?

"Haul out the Holly" is the first line of what song in what musical that debuted on Broadway in 1966?

Need a hint?

The show opened with Bea Arthur and Angela Lansbury.

Another hint:

this musical was an adaptation of a 1956 play (originally entitled My Best Girl), which adapted a 1955 novel (whose name I cannot yet divulge for it would give away the name of our mystery musical).

And our final hint:

the main character's motto is "Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death."

I am sure Warren took one look at the title and scoffed: how simple! Puh-lease! Have some respect.

That musical would be Mame, and the number for which "Haul out the Holly" opens  is "We Need a Little Christmas."

So that was a circuitous way to celebrate what has become one of my favorite garden personages: the Holly Fern (Cyrtomium falcatum).

Look at those erect fronds--2 to 3 feet in height, gently arching to give a cascading fountain effect!

Look at the leathery, holly-like leaves with a sheen that is the visual equivalent to the young Angela Lansbury belting out lyrics to "We Need a Little Christmas!" Both are there, both stage a presence.

"This"--"this" being finding meaning in things, and thus finding while losing ourselves in those "things"--is what we do, isn't it? Warren finds his joy in musicals, and I in gardening. Viet has many pleasures from which he derives meaning (he keeps a blog, My Criterion Life, that documents his own musings and discoveries coincident with the films of the celebrated Criterion Collection...a sort of Julie and Julia project even if he protests my comparison).

This is what we do. Otherwise, we look in the mirror one day and see but a shell of a Being that should be a self, the what-could-have-been-but-can-no-longer-be-because-our-time-is-running-out. That is what we have become, and that is what we shall be. It is a sobering thought.

The Druids found meaning in and thus celebrated the Holly tree, now the symbolic repository of "the season," because it remained vibrantly lush and kept the Earth beautiful while the sacred oaks (now English Oaks) were bereft of their leaves. One wonders if they transferred the idea of the sacred from the Oak to the Holly, or if they recognized different manifestations of the sacred, or if the Druids saw the sacred itself shift seasonal residence (a precursor to "Snow Birds" on the East Coast), or if the they merely shifted their attention from barren branches to bountiful boughs, much as we moderns do daily, hourly, by the minute, even if they did so much more slowly than we moderns.

So Cyrtomium falcatum, the Holly fern, which throughout the year strikes a presence owing to those glossy semi-serrated leaves (can you spot them?), assumes special presence and meaning at this time of year if only because of the barren landscape in which it finds itself. It is the ground-cover equivalent to its arboreal eponym, perhaps not resident or incarnation of the sacred, but an exuberant if unexpected evergreen presence in the garden.

And attribute meaning to it, we do, if only to appease our incessant, inner search for something more than ourselves.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


"Lady-in-waiting" has a decidedly old-fashioned and somewhat negative ring to it.

To these American ears, those three words conjure images of lonely women, waiting for that fairy-tale image of a prince to sweep her off her feet and abscond with her to married-land. Or the wives of active-duty servicemen who remain at home, waiting with much angst for their husbands to return home. Or it might refer to women who "await their turn" in political life--whose turn may, of course, never come.

Yet the historical role of the lady-in-waiting was much more significant than my American-bred (and obviously skewed) understanding could admit. (Of course, that depends in part on your understanding of the term significant: many today would no doubt scoff at what was deemed significant in different historical periods--but to them I would caution not to read modern conceits back in time.)

The lady-in-waiting was often a noblewomen who served in the capacity of attendant to a queen or princess or another woman of high socio-political (and often lesser royal) status. She was emphatically not a servant, nor a helpless damsel. Depending on her character and her conduct, she often "advanced" to the status of confidante of the woman she served. Her duties might have included advising on issues related to court/palace etiquette, translation when entertaining those who spoke a different language, performing secretarial duties, supervising servants and staffs, acting as discreet transmitter of messages, caring for the  wardrobe, and the like.

It is thanks to ladies-in-waiting that I saw some of Marie Antoinette's ballroom gowns this summer.

And I can only intuit that many a war or violent conflicts on the European continent were probably avoided because a lady-in-waiting advised a king or queen, or perturbed visitor, on the rules of etiquette regarding what do to when one perceives a snub by another. 

Even if we contemporize the term a bit--The Bangkok Post ran this article on a new film (the Asian equivalent of The Iron Lady starring the iconic Meryl Streep in the role of Lady T) about Aung San Suu Kyi--the term just connotes passivity.

Fortunately, my ladies in waiting are anything but passive. Here they are, in mid-December, despite a few moderately-damning frosts but encouraged by many a temperate day:

the Ben Franklin double red peony (trans-gendered? transvestite?), sending one of its gherkin shoots into the sky;

while the Creeping Phlox, which usually blooms in March and April, produces a few buds,

and the Paper-whites and daffodils display several inches of greenery.

To adapt the titles of several very popular books by Vicki Leon, these are the Uppity Women of the Garden!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

"Jolly Good"

Desiccated gardens,
blackened silhouettes stark 'gainst icy skies,
forlorn leaves that litter the landscape:

confronted by the raw nakedness of these somber sights of late autumn, we yearn for greater assurance of our own existence. We yearn for the certitude of comfort, for a protective warmth from real or imagined chill.

And find it--if not create it--we do.

Green and red are jolly good colours, eliciting from us Pavlovian creatures a spirited response, an uplifting of moods wrapped up in (and suppressed under) layers of wool and, for the more fashionable perhaps, cashmere as well.

We invariably take our cues from nature--Holly with its bright green and cheery red berries is no doubt the quintessential cue for holiday attire.

But so too are there other riches to be found in the garden:

the Burning Bush offers an abundance of tiny red berries this year,

though admittedly its barren branches offer little relief for seasonal disaffect,

while the Nandina offers but a few, meager clumps of red this year.

The Hypericum, too, joins the festivities, festooning itself with winter red before the inevitable snow falls.

Surely, the donning of holiday apparel bedecking our halls (and lampposts and store fronts and roof lines and trees and shrubs and walkways) provides a welcome antidote to an increasingly dour exterior, that dash of red the consummate color of jolly.

Even the summer geranium sports a fine show deep into December, its ruddiness a merry accoutrement to (porch-painted) winter white.

Friday, December 9, 2011

What's your pleasure?

We are all aware of the symbolic meanings of plants and flowers.

If four leaf clovers are reputed to bring luck, red roses signify romantic love.

If lotus' enlightenment counters narcissus' egotism, then sage's wisdom subdue's marigold's cruelty and jealousy.

But grasses, specifically Cortaderia selloana, a.k.a. Pampas Grass? What, pray tell, could its association be?

As British television and radio presenter Marielle Frostrup has recently learned, Pampas signifies a whole lot.

Hoping to soften the edges of her balcony and give it a bit of natural appeal, Frostrup planted two Pampas Grasses. But she sowed the seeds of something more.

Calls began flooding her home to schedule play dates. Not play dates for her children, but adult play dates; play dates to exchange spouses.

Apparently, she learned, urban legend has it that Pampas Grass is the botanical equivalent of "keys in the bowl:" of good-old fashioned swinging.

Now she seeks to give them away.

I've struggled to find the origins of this association, but to no avail. Thus, I proffer my own theory as to the coupling of Pampas and swinging in the spirit of David Letterman's Top Ten Countdown

(10) It is a fast grower: up to 10 feet tall, and is a premium choice for filling large, barren spaces quickly.... enough said.

(9) It grows into a thick mass--perfect for privacy. Uh, yeah...

(8) Pampas Grass attracts all sorts of wildlife: birds, reptiles, and small mammals find refuge in that thick mass....Is that code for indiscriminate taste?

(7) Pampas Grass evokes the tropics... tropics, for many here in the north, equates with escape, abandon, drinks served in coconuts, letting one's hair down....

(6) Its plumes...well...haven't the French designed something naughty akin to that plume?

(5) Pampas Grass is one tough plant, drought- and pest-resilient, able to withstand the ice and snow and salt it may encounter here in the north.... I assume swingers, too, must be emotionally (and physically) resilient with all of that partner swapping and sex....

(4)   Its plumes provide a nice visual contrast to all those accoutrements of modern, urban life (the signs, the concrete, the metal). Interpret that as code for "we do it differently here."

(3) Pampas Grass is low maintenance.... swingers, I would presume, must be low maintenance sorts themselves... I mean, I can't imagine "high maintenance" emotional sorts to partake in swinging games. Wining and dining and expensive jewelry and morning-after phone calls doesn't seem from my limited vantage point and complete personal unfamiliarity with swinging to befit the practice.

(2) Cortaderia selloana is a native of South America: you know, Latin lovers and all that....

And....the number one reason for this bizarre association:

Pampas Grass is cheap. Swinging might be the most inexpensive form of adult entertainment out there.

It makes you wonder: what do cacti symbolize?!     Ouch.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Into the garden we need to go...

I learned this morning of the very sudden death of one of my intellectual heroes, Dr. Elisabeth Young-Bruehl. She was 65, and died on 1 December while walking home from a concert with her spouse, Christine Dunbar.

So often in our lives--in all of the areas that comprise them--we identify heroes and guides of multiple sorts: musical, cultural, intellectual, philosophical, political, spiritual. We seem to require some sort of framework with which to make sense of the world beyond. Our heroes, our guides, help us make sense. While we may not agree with all that they teach and offer us, their presence somehow alleviates the general anxiety. When stuck with and in my work, I often ask myself, "what would Hannah [Arendt] do?" Consulting her work makes me think, and, after a visitation, I put "her" down and am able to pick up where I left off, my work not derivative from hers, but guided by her intellectual curiosity and her verve.

Of course some of our heroes and guides are people we actually know: present or former professors and teachers, esteemed relatives, friends. Our friends should always be our heroes, and always be our guides, though we usually do not accord them such description if not status. I am blessed with several, even if most of them live far away; their spirits, however, are always closer than geography permits.

But some of our heroes and our guides are distant others. I have a core: Susan and Hannah, Virginia and Vita, and Dag. Referred to differently, I have Sontag and Arendt, Woolf and Sackville-West, and the revered second Secretary-General of the United Nations, Hammarskjold. Those are my heroes, those are my guides, those are the ghosts with whom I live. Yes: they occupy my house, my psyche, and on Sunday, the 36th anniversary of Hannah Arendt's death, they all came to me, a cacophony of voices, their spirits not in need of reassurance that they existed corporeally at one time, but there to assure me of the certitude of my own existence.  I could not articulate the question to which I needed an answer, but somehow they did, and their spirits coalesced in a way that made apparent my own needs at the time.

Yes: we live complicated lives.

And then there are distant others who occupy other tiers. Elizabeth Young-Bruehl occupied one of those.

I write this entry in a public venue--not out of choice but of necessity as I await an appointment. But I needed to write, needed to respond to her death that makes me want to cry, that makes me want to walk into the garden at this very moment. But my garden is miles away, and I am here, trapped in a public. Elisabeth, psycho-analyst that she was (for now we must use the past tense), would no doubt find riches in that statement.

Too often when we confront a problem, a conundrum, a death, we seek to be alone. Some innate compulsion leads us at once inward to our souls, and outward into a realm that is not entirely our own, try as we humans do to make it entirely our own: nature. We seek to take a walk. To feel the air against our cheeks. To listen to the rustle of leaves. To envelope ourselves with natural sounds--sounds that no doubt amplify our inner voices, too often drowned out as they are by the din of modern life and its multiple, unrelenting demands.

Dominque Browning, former editor of House and Garden, blogger extraordinaire, former student and close friend and confidante of Elisabeth's, posted a most poignant, moving tribute to her beloved friend and mentor. The tribute appears both on Dominique's blog, Slow Love Life, and on Elisabeth's now silenced forum, Who's Afraid of Social Democracy?.

Was. Silenced. Our lives, our passings, take grammatical form. Grammar provides the certainty of our existence, just as it signals the certainty of our own exit.

And so on this Floridian, December day in Delaware, the air thick with moisture and weighted by warmth, I yearn to step into the garden with its soggy, muddied ground, its decaying leaves, its skeletal remains, to feel the air, to feel the mist, to ask, along with Elisabeth, "what would Hannah do?"

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Tricks and Treats

A title fitting for Halloween, don't you think?

But shall we agree not to unnecessarily or arbitrarily compartmentalize?  After all, I write from northern Delaware in a time of global warming and thus in the midst of unexpected October snowstorms and deep autumnal warmth.

Late November has brought with it several hard frosts, though none so punishing as to excise the most hardy perennials from the rear shade garden. Even this potted geranium persists, notwithstanding occasional frosty sparkles upon its scalloped, reniform leaves. 

Now that the canopy provided by the maple tree has finally (post-Thanksgiving) been swept away by November winds, I expect my landscape to change rather soon.

Imagine my surprise and delight, then, walking in the garden late last week to discover several additional flowers on the Camellia (Sasanqua x oleifera Survivor) I planted this spring!

Its deep corbeau leaves echo the coloration of the Sawtooth Aucuba japonica Serratifolia across the walkway, and its slight margins accented in lime mirror the Euonymous aureomarginatus japonicus in the background, and the Cintronelle Heuchera at its base.

But those white flowers, jarring against the browning landscape, are the real show stopper: exuberant if pedantic in their perseverance.

We cannot but be taken by their unusual appearance, seemingly delicate, their coloration garishly malapropos, their stamens begging for stimulation by wayward insects that have, despite the weather, largely gone into hiberation after millennia of genetic programming. Nature tries to outdo herself; yet her progeny are slow to catch up.

A trick of (or for?) the season, a treat for the senses! No matter: for they are what they are, and we accept what is offered to us.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Color in the Garden: Amber

Amber is not a color that we plant in the garden.

Amber is the color that becomes the garden, for November (in these parts, never October) signifies what is both the garden's final retreat, and its inexorable march towards its annual, ritualistic demise.

Amber mutates, morphs, appears in various strains,

from the more translucent golden yellows of Solomon's Seal (Polygonatum commutatum)

and the deeper yellow-golds of the Gingko Biloba tree which has painted the field beneath it bright (a stark contrast to its now darkened skeleton),

to the rich brown-yellows of Orange Marmalade hosta,

from the orange hues of Rose Mallow's palmated leaves,

to the rich brown-ambers of the Big Blue Hosta,

the Blue Angel Hosta (the photo was taken early in its coloric metamorphosis, hence the lighter tones which quickly gave way to the deep amber visible at its tip),

and the Carolina Allspice,

to the the rare (in the gem world at least) red-ambers as seen in this Bald Cypress allee.

Amber is the official notice: the color of automobile turn signals (the industry has, I've learned, named the color of those yellow-brown plastic casings "Automotive Amber"), the alert when a child is missing, the last flash of brilliance before autumnal barren becomes the norm.

Amber is the color of absolution: a reward for our gardening follies (gardening is a persistent education, after all, a learning from our mistakes).
Amber is the preservative of garden memories, a golden dusk that arrests the moment and the season just as we awake and realize we've lost our grip.

Amber is the apogee of splendor, the final color before moribund, dessicated brown envelops, and winter white purifies.

The Frost that Giveth...

Twenty-nine degrees this morning brought with it the second appreciable frost of the season--but not a frost frigid enough to destroy many of the hardier perennials or even affect the shade garden, still protected as it were by the now-decimated golden canopy of the maple tree.

The front garden, exposed, bore the brunt of the frost, which visibly extended its icy grips across my miniature botanical garden.

If frost claimed the vestiges of this hosta, already ravaged by the first (light) frost several weeks ago,

then it proved an ancestral accoutrement for this Sedum ellacombanium, native to northern Japan and the Kamchatka Peninsula, which, flowering well into the chill of November, looks dazzling draped in frosty white.

The Siberian Iris, bespeckled with gelid diamonds, appeared to reminisce, never so close to its indigenous Asian steppe as on the morning of the first frost which clings to its elongated fingers.

The frost surprised me, but not for the expected shock of its arrival, its veritable message that the gardening season has ended. After all, my insomniac self counted not sheep but the number of times the heating system turned on since 1:48 a.m.; I was very much aware of the consuming chill of the night, constrained also by 3 cats eager to capture every kilowatt of heat emanating from my body.

No. The frost surprised me by what it instigated and what it claimed.

It instigated an unexpected if disturbing sense of release: a release from obligation, a release from care, a release from service.

How positively strange. I love gardening. It is my escape. And yet, like the gym and this blog and my research and my house cleaning, my gardening life has been hijacked. Frost announced that all is virtually over, and that the mess that I call a garden, once first prize winning but for weeks an overgrown mass of mess, no longer needed my attention. Frost proved my absolution for the paralyzing guilt that had been building up for weeks, caught up in the pressure cooker that has become the metaphor for my life. Frost proved its release. Frost saved me from my self.

As is my nature, I lapsed into brooding (as unbecoming as brooding may be). That sense of release has consumed me, commanded my attention all morning. In my brooding I have come to realize what the frost must also claim: my sense of abandonment, my hijacking. These must end.

We are not hedonists when we care for the self, whether care assumes the form of gardening, or shopping, or blogging, or working out. No. We are tenders of the soul.

And now I come to realize the importance of advice given to me several months ago: I need to learn how to ignore and to prioritize. To prioritize is not to put others always above and ahead of the self. To prioritize is to recognize that others must learn to tend to their own selves and to take responsibility for the choices they make.

Amazing: if frost is usually denigrated for that which it takes away, today I celebrate frost for what it has brought (back) to me.

Saturday, November 12, 2011


Subduction is an odd word.

It sounds like the bastard child of abduction and seduction.
But it is not. In fact, it is the opposite of what my dirty thoughts suggest: that is, not reproduction and thus the addition of something else, but rather a subtraction, a withdrawal, a removal.

Subducere, from which subduction derives, conjoins the prefix sub- (under, below, beneath, secondary, less than) with the root ducere, meaning to lead. Ducere makes me think immediately, of course, of Il Duce himself, with his corpse hanging upside down and all that that implies: secondary leadership, attempted escape, execution, withdrawal.

Yet the term has lost its ordinary meaning, having been adopted by geologists who will, no doubt, be puzzled by my application of a technical term of science to gardening. In plate tectonics, subduction refers to the process by which the edge of one crustal plate descends below another. Nine of the ten most powerful earthquakes to occur in the last century were subduction zone events, including the 2004 Indian Ocean and the 2011 Tohoku (Japan) earthquakes, both of which produced devastating tsunamis.

My autumnal world, it seems, is undergoing a process of subduction. A withdrawal. Sure, that is the cycle of seasons, yet there is something else going on: a subduction of color.

If subduction in the rear garden assumes various shades of yellow--a veritable pot of gold into which all colors are absorbed, made more spectacular by the golden canopy of the maple tree, then the front garden experiences a subduction dominated by hues of red and purple.

The Orange Marmalade hosta, having turned a brilliant shade of gold, begins the East Side Shade bed's autumnal glory,

and is joined by the Big Blue Angel hosta, which has turned  this brilliant shade of amber, accented by the leathery greens of East India Holly Fern.

Gramsci looks veritably pleased that the world has capitulated to his omnipotent handsomeness by turning his golden-boy shade of glory, though I surmise he may also feel a tad bit overwhelmed by the ubiquity of  "the color of him."

In the front garden, the burning bush takes center stage, and is complemented by the single petaled daisy-like chrysanthemum and the now denuded burgundy stems of Rose Mallow, and offset by the creamy variegation of the Siberian Iris.

Rudolph Waleuphrud Euphorbia begins to come into his own, his tips deepening their ruddy display in preparation for his Christmas pageantry. He's a one man show at that time of year, and he simply must shine.

In the meantime, Gramsci searches for the fresh green grass on which he likes to graze--grass that will no doubt in a few weeks experience its own subduction by winter white.