Thursday, April 26, 2012

Impressionable Youth

I was an advertisers' wet dream when I was younger.

I absorbed everything and remembered every jingle, no matter if it was for cereal or BMWs.

These days, I neither watch TV nor pay attention to fact, Viet often blurts out some judgment or statement while we are on road trips and I look at him quizzically.

"You know, the billboard."


" Um.... you didn't see that 30 foot high sign with a blazingly hot, and nearly naked, guy advertising hair removal?" (Note to reader: there really is such a billboard on I-95 just north of downtown Philadelphia...though I think there might also be an attractive woman posing with the guy...)

"Really?!" I ask incredulously, thinking he makes these things up.

"Yeah." He's resigned to accept my inability to see the world around me.

"Damn it. How could I have missed that?!  I didn't see it."

My advertising memory remains stuck in the 1980s.

Thus when I came upon the fuchsia azalea and the flaming red legs of Rudolph Waleuphrud Euphorbia yesterday, I suddenly muttered "New Jersey and You, Perfect Together."

Former Governor Tom Kean would be proud that his desperate campaign to correct the armpit-of-New York, industrial wasteland, medical-waste-washing-up-on-shores images of New Jersey worked for at least one New Yorker.

And for the record, I sing "Canada, Come to the World Next Door" nearly every day.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Color in the Garden: Indigo

Surprisingly, I haven't yet written on indigo in the garden. I've mused on blue and violet and purple, but not indigo, which is more prevalent in my garden than any of those other colors.

And I'm not talking about False Indigo (Baptisia), and my first miserably insulting experience with it!  (Though now I relish in the fact that my Carolina Moonlight Baptisia, seen here in communion with Corydalis lutea, situated between Blue Fescue Grass and May Night Salvia, with spikes of about-to-burst creamy white/pale yellow flowers, is performing remarkably well in my front garden!)

Indigo, from the Greek ινδικόν (indikon) meaning simultaneously "dye" and "from India," silently screams its substance. Not mere color, but transformational experience (turning something into something else). Not merely from somewhere else, but transoceanic, trans-spatial journeys.

Indigo is, in the Vedic chakra system, the third eye or brow chakra. Ajna. The center of spiritual understanding. The portal for sight in both its physical and intuitive senses. Clarity in the brow chakra--which is code for clarity of mind--allows us to "see things anew," "to see the big picture."

The symbol for the brow or indgo chakra is the pyramid, much like the Iris with its 3 sepals.

I wonder, then, if the expression "out of the blue" really speaks more to the Vedic (indigo) rather than the Western tradition. The idiom is, etymologically, an adaptation of a line from Thomas Carlyle's 1837 The French Revolution: "Arrestment, sudden really as a bolt out of the Blue, has hit strange victims."  

"Out of the blue" speaks to the unforeseen, the unplanned, the jolt of clarity as one thinks and writes. 

It is a bolt of indigo Iris 'gainst a backdrop of Citronelle Heuchera sunshine.

Yet in the Western tradition writ large, this democratic meaning of indigo/blue is countered by an elitist strand.

Sumptuary laws--laws designed to restrain the display of luxury or extravagance--in Elizabethan England regulated use of the color indigo. Associated with wealth and power, indigo (a.k.a. Royal Blue) could only adorn the fashionable, and fashionable was code for royalty and the landed aristocracy. 

This all seems so Hegelian now...for there is a power inherent in indigo: at once democratic and royal, accessible yet reserved. And therein the two traditions, if I may cal them that, converge.  (To what synthesis I have not yet been struck out of the blue to indicate...)

Clarity of sight--literal and figurative, physical and spiritual--is open to us all. That is the democratic element.

Yet there are forces, internal and external, that hamper our vision. That is the elite element.

I'm not so convinced that the choice--to be democratic or to be defeated by elitism--is always up to us.

Perhaps that is the synthesis: the out of the blue moment when democratic and elite combine to forge an inestimable moment of perfect vision.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Water, Water Everywhere, But Not a Drop to Drink

If you live in the mid-Atlantic region, you might be puzzled by the title of today's post.

We haven't had rain in weeks.  Early summer-like temperatures add to the misery (misery for plants, parched as they are).

I recently adjoined two flower beds: the lantern bed and the crescent bed bordering the stone patio. Even 14 inches down, the soil is arid. With merely traceable snow this winter, above-average temperatures for months, and limited spring rains, we face a considerable problem moving into the summer.

So when I see my Tiarella Dark Star Foam Flower, rather neighborly with Brunnera and its sky blue flowers (or might that be sea blue?), I think of the sea foam that forms on (some) beaches--and I feel refreshed.

Tiarella, some websites inform us, like consistently moist soil.

However, I purchased it at Mt. Cuba in Delaware (one of the several DuPont estates and gardens), and was told it tolerated well dry soil, being a native of woodlands (where tree roots presumably absorb all available moisture).

And mine is doing extraordinarily well in its raised bed underneath a Norwegian maple tree (the most notorious moisture thief transplanted to North America)!

Despite her nomenclature, she is a good natured gal.

(Some may take offense at that statement.)

But really, with her name, what can you expect?

Tiarella, as in from the Greek tiara. Think princess. Stuck-up. Bossy. Demanding. Some prissy prima donna, first lady of the stage, a Maria Callas refusing to sing because of some pretense or intuited offense.

If you think her given name is any indication of her personality, well, then, meet her family: Saxifragaceae.

Yes, Sax.

How about this spelling: Saks (as in Fifth Avenue)?

Our darling little princess, it seems, has expensive taste, or is from a family of expensive tastes!

But, alas, she is quite modest--so modest that she has rewarded my virtual neglect of her with masses of foam flowers (even during Mother Nature's desertification of Delaware).

Corydalis, the harlot of my garden, accents Tiarella's bright yellow anthers (a bit of seduction, eh?! I hear her whisper: "come, burst forth my darling, give me your seed..."),

while the blue of Brunnera communes so nicely with Tiarella's lavender-colored unopened buds. They are intimate friends; you can see that in the way they delicately reach out to each other, comforted by the other's presence.

In the distance, Solomon's Seal shamelessly offers himself to her: unburdened by undergarments, his flowers dangle from his stems. One wonders if they know that their displays of purity white belie their highly sexualized presence.

So we wait. We wait for sexual contact, made possible through the few honey bees I've seen and massive sized bumble bees (so large they don't have stingers but carry switchblades). 

We wait for rain.

Yet here we have a collection of drought-tolerant plants: Brunnera (macrophylla), Corydalis, Solomon's Seal, and of course, Tiarella, the star of the garden. How do we know? Her leaves tell us so...