Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Summer of my (Gardening) Discontent

"Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York..."

--Richard III, Shakespeare

Drought. Persistent record-breaking heat. High humidity. Mosquitoes--swarms of them. Sclerotium rolfsii. Sharon.

These are the causes of the summer of my gardening discontent.

The drought has claimed several plants, most notably several of the Japanese Painted Ferns.  I pulled a scraggly chrysanthemum from the raised bed around the maple tree that had finally donned the crispness and color of botanical death.

The Japanese Beech  Ferns have lost three-quarters of their mass. Buddha meditates on the impermanence of life (yet I cannot help but think Buddha silently impugns, "impermanence assisted as it were by neglectful people like MSW").

Add to those Gramsci's assistance with watering and fertilizing, well, then, we have a perfect storm. This poor hosta has not had a break; Gramsci prefers to deposit his droppings, and scrape the mulch and soil around it, never caring that each week he breaks another leaf from the crown.

More damningly and disturbingly, he has come to prefer the lavatorial privacy afforded by the Nikko Blue Hydrangea, which, since the gardening contest last month, has been succumbing to the slow creep of death.

One of the Golden Tiara hostas, afflicted last year by Sclerotium rolfsii, has this year been nearly obliterated by it, its flower stalks a tragic testament to resilience.

To add to my woes, or perception of my woes, Sharon asked for lavender yesterday. Her homeopathic therapist suggested she inhale its aromatic oil to help her sleep, which she has not been able to do in any meaningful sense since she returned from hospital four weeks ago. Her body and her psyche exude the failings caused by chronic insomnia. I raced to the garden to face my own denial: the lavender--the massive one that I transplanted earlier this year--was definitely dead. Dessicated. Brittle. Cast in sickly hues.

Gardening has become, like much in life of late, a chore, something to be avoided.

But a walk this morning reminded me of Shakespeare and the power of suggestion and image and perception: "Now is the winter of our discontent, made glorious summer by this sun of York."

Hardly a commentary of Yorkshire weather.

His story demanded an antagonist, a villain. Richard III proved an available figure: an unhappy man in a world which hated him, brooding and melancholic, malevolent even. The portrait continues a few lines down, which is framed as Richard's decidedly non-fraternal feelings towards his brother, King Edward IV:

"I am determined to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.
Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous,
By drunken prophecies, libels and dreams,
To set my brother Clarence and the king
In deadly hate the one against the other:
And if King Edward be as true and just
As I am subtle, false and treacherous,
This day should Clarence closely be mew'd up,
About a prophecy, which says that 'G'
Of Edward's heirs the murderer shall be."

Yet on many accounts Richard III was loved, enlightened, 'forward-thinking'. He proved a loyal and skilled military commander--well, that is until his defeat (er, death) at the Battle of Bosworth Field, the penultimate duel in the Wars of the Roses.

Some Shakespeare scholars opine that the portrait of the dead king reflected his own views of the state of England during the wars when Englishman butchered Englishman, when the House of Lancaster battled, and eventually prevailed over, the House of York and ended the Plantagenet dynasty, the 15 kings of which ruled England from 1154 to 1485. But their paternal ancestors were French, and we all know about the historical (and not so historical) tensions between the English and the French. To Yorkshire pudding Lancaster said yes. To French-descendent kings, a resounding no.

Shakespeare needed a foil--something, someone, to exemplify the fetid gash that divided England, of the plots and schemes and pettiness that fed a war--to prove the futility of (internecine) conflict. We humans thrive, it seems, on nastiness, and therefore nastiness demands a rejoinder.

And so my irenic reading of Shakespeare found an analogue in my garden this morning, an antidote to the summer of my gardening discontent: in my Rudbeckia I found the sun of York, a blazing presence in a drought- and cancer-scarred landscape.

As I drove home from an exhaustingly invigorating yoga class last evening, I thought that I would not have the strength to battle the aggressive cancer that Sharon, nearly 2 years my senior, faces. I could feel her palpable, quite evident exhaustion and frustration, and would want, if I were in her shoes, to simply curl up and die. But she does not budge; her feet remain planted on terra firma all the while she scans the heavens looking for signs from her maker.

Hope remains even in the face of the most adversarial nastiness and discontent.

That we must remember. 

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