Friday, July 22, 2011

My Filibuster, My Swiss, My Garden

41: the number of Senators needed to permit use of the Filibuster

41: the international dialing code for Switzerland

41: George W. Bush's nickname for his father, George H.W., the 41st President of the United States

41: Montana, as in the 41st U.S. state

41: the year Caligula was assassinated

41 (B.C.E.): the beginning of the Marc Antony - Cleopatra alliance (and their fabled love affair!)

41: cuarenta y uno, Mexican slang for "homosexuals" stemming from a scandal dubbed El baile de los cuarenta y uno (the Dance of the 41),  in reference to a 1901 raid on a private house which resulted in the arrest of 41 high society gays, and the ensuing efforts of the Porfirio Diaz government to cover-up the affair

41: the Jupiter Symphony, Mozart's last (only because he skipped the number 37)

41: the number of distinct genera of plants in my rear shade garden (to be clear, I count 80 species of 41 different genera in the rear shade garden)

41: a measure of time, not always an arbitrary number; both a singularity and a component in an infinite sequence

Time passes: neither can we deny or stop it. "Time," Heidegger mused, "is the truth of space." Space, therefore, is ontologically prior to time, and to understand time, we must understand space.

Yet, on my reading of his formulation, the only way we may understand space is through time. The two are inextricably linked. This is not to suggest a conception of space as linearity, but in a sense it is. While Life (with a capital L, a designation of the phenomenon) may be adequately denoted as a cycle (of birth, maturation, decline, and death), life as an individual phenomenon itself manifests the cycle but it cannot be renewed. Individual life is finite, and therefore linear.

Take any number: it is, in its singularity, both a beginning and an end. Set sequentially, though, it becomes a fleeting moment, a link to that which precedes and that which proceeds it. Both understandings ultimately get at why age is so significant: we are simultaneously linked and de-linked to a world beyond. Our individuality is inherently determined by our own acts of self-creation (and, to be a bit Hegelian, self-negation), but also by our sheer connectedness to a broader universe. We are Time and we are time, we are Life, and we are life.

The garden exemplifies this movement of the truth of space. Our plants become our selves, and our selves become enmeshed in a horticultural assemblage, a kingdom beyond our control but always connected to us.

That is why I take so many photographs of the garden. Every morning, every afternoon, every moment of time: each offers something new, whether in the opening of a blossom, the fading of a color, the growth of a stem, the appearance of a leaf. We may deem these insignificant moments, or moments to be fully appreciated on the weekend. But these almost inappreciable moments obtain significance, for, taken together, they become the pedagogy of the garden: it teaches us to be in the world, it envelops us in space. And always it makes us appreciate the passage of time, even as time for a brief moment, stands still.

The garden: it is my filibuster, it is my Switzerland, it is now, for this moment anyway, my 41.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Abuzz with Activity

The summer garden is abuzz with activity:

Bees gather nectar, looking quite smashing against the Gallo Yellow Gaillardia,

buds open, in some cases a bit prematurely such as the Kirengeshoma palmata (Yellow Waxbells), not due for its display until late August and September,

or "as scheduled," as with Guacamole Hosta,

and the June Plantain hosta, which still struggles after another bout of that nasty, dreadful, feared Sclerota Rolfsii;

some flowers, though, fade, pre-programmed as it were to understand that there is a moment to shine, and there are times to let others shine,

all the while Gramsci-cat lounges in not yet scorching morning sun,

and Praying Mantises--of which I have an abundance in the front garden--eat morning meals, perched attractively atop vibrant Crocosmia,

while others wait patiently for prey.

But something else buzzes, dear reader: YOU!

My readership increased to an astonishing 576 last month, and though I have no way of knowing if that translates into 576 different readers, or 576 hits for the eight different entries, I am utterly touched, flattered, and emboldened that others would care to read my musings, and occasional dirty thought.

Thank you, thank you, thank you dear readers!!

Now, if only I could conjure a little more dirty....

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

My Pharos, My Beacon

From seemingly time immemorial, we humans have relied on various artifices to help navigate our way in the world, whether literally or metaphorically.

For the physical journey, lighthouses dot the coasts, punctuating darkness with astonishing flare. On land, that ubiquitous green sign dominates our street-scapes and highways.

Talismans of varying sort--rabbit feet, mezuzot, prayer beads, omamori, nazars--keep us safe, ward off evil, bring us health. Scripts, scriptures, sutras, discourses, gospels, hymns, tantras, Vedas, Bibles, Torahs, Korans, Nikayas, and Angas  provide a different kind of navigation for a journey much more intimate, sacred, and personal than many dare admit. That journey is hardly accomplished once a week in a crowded (or, given contemporary proclivities, not so crowded) room with others. Rather, that journey begins each day when we look into the mirror and stare back at the shell and the history and the life and the being that look back at us. And that journey continues each moment in our interactions with others, and is paved or pitted with every gesture or act or engagement in the world. 

We need, in other words, guidance to face the Supreme Mystery. This mystery is not the Divine. No. It is Life.

Life itself is our Supreme Mystery. Each of us must in our unique ways reconcile the Being we inhabit with the world around us. How are we to live is the question that we think all of the talismans, amulets, and sacred texts ultimately answer. 

Sometimes, though, the answer to that question is much more pressing, much more momentary, and actually morphs into another related question: how am I to get through?

This summer has been one of obligations too numerable to think about, and, worse, the production of sub-standard work that has required additional time and labor to rectify my shortcomings. And so I find myself with little time to garden (or blog, hence the paucity of entries of late), and I feel all the worse for it.

Early yesterday morning--ahead of a very busy day--I ventured outside to feed Miss Grey Kitty, and there was my Pharos, my beacon: Rose Mallow. She offered me her first bloom of the season on a day I needed it most.

We do find our amulets in unexpected places. We simply need to be attuned to them, and to know and trust ourselves to intuit and accept the messages they communicate to us.

In this case, stopping to smell the proverbial rose (proverbial indeed: Rose Mallow is only in name a rose, and is rather in the Hibiscus family!) proved my amulet, my talisman, my moment to stop spinning wheels and engage in that which revives me: gardening.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Adult (Dis)pleasures XI: Judging

We all judge. Every day we judge.

We judge others for what they say, what they wear, what they do.  Sometimes our judgments are constructive ("the evidence you provide for this argument is thin, but if you reframe the argument the evidence becomes much more powerful"). Sometimes our judgments are innocuous ("compared to the sprightliness of Prague, I must say I don't like's too cold and austere of a city though I'd still go back"). Other times, our judgments are just plain catty ("can you believe X wore that hideous dress/shirt/tie/suit/etc.?!").

The field of judgment has been vastly expanded by technology, and its social media offspring like Facebook (or, perhaps more appropriately stated, the opportunities and the publicity of our varied judgments have multiplied, not necessarily the act of judgment itself). Facebook, I've noticed, permits all of us to be hedonists and voyeurs: roles that no doubt both attract the judgment of others and encourage our own forays into what can be, depending on how articulated, an unbecoming activity.

Last Saturday, I opened my garden to judgment by unknown others. I thought it would be an exercise in anxiety, but it turned out to be rather innocuous and actually somewhat enjoyable. The City Garden Competition, sponsored by the Delaware Center for Horticulture and supported by the DuPont Company, celebrates the art of city gardening and rewards those who try to beautify the city.

But beauty is, as the proverb goes, in the eye of the beholder. And so some may scoff at your perennial-dominated garden because it "lacks color." Others may condescend at your "organic, pedestrian" attempt to "garden" because it fails to cohere with one's particular image of a garden--usually, in that case, a professionally installed Italianate garden rich in sculpted topiary and statuary, or French geometric patterned, delineated beds in a vast sea of garden space that can only exude wealth.

Yet the hope is that collections of judges, multiples of them, can agree on what constitutes beauty in the garden even if one clearly bemoans a lack of color provided by an infusion of annuals.  In that regard, we might say proper judgment, as well as conceptions of beauty, are at root connected to principles and the application of them to specific circumstances.

And so the judges on that hot, but unusually not humid, July morning, underscored the difference between judgment as cattiness and judgment as serious, principled endeavor: they asked questions. If at first glance the sun garden at 410 looks in the summer like a mass of foliage, punctuated only occasionally by a flower, and thus uninteresting, questions provoked my exegesis on design, about which I've already blogged.

The "interrogation" (by which I mean no normative judgment, just a description of the questioning that took place that day) in the end made my entry into the City Garden Competition all worth it. It frankly makes no difference to me whether or not I win. What really mattered was the sharing of my garden experience with others, and their genuine concern (at least on a professional level in those particular moments of judging) with design principles, aesthetics,and the joy of gardening in all its forms.

I hope you enjoy these photos taken on the morning of the contest (after, I might add, an evening of intense thunderstorms and heavy rain that lasted several hours).

The Blue Fescue Grass provides a nice counterpoint to the vibrancy of Crocosmia, though some may think the juxtaposition is garish. 

The East Side Shade Bed begins with the alacrity of Orange Marmalade Hosta paired with the coolness of the Sawtooth Aucuba, both of which anticipate colors and hues that appear throughout the rear shade gardens.

Though her margins have faded as the summer progresses (as all hosta colors invariably do), the Golden Tiarra Hosta looks smashing after a cleansing rain.

I now have two Lemon Drop Hostas to create an "echo" effect or what garden designers call rhythm.

Taking a broader view, the Lemon Drop hosta picks up on the avocado green of the Guacamole Hosta.

On the other side of the rear shade garden, the Nikko Blue Hydrangea has now faded, as have the vibrant gold margins of Aureomarginata Hosta. But they still offer a sense of beauty that comes with the patina of aging.

The Christmas Eve Hosta in front of the Buddha usually does not fare well in exceptional summer heat, so I think I need to make an offering to the Buddha for helping it flourish this season.