Sunday, November 21, 2010

Rosa Gruss An Aachen: The Last Rose of Summer

Rosa Gruss said "Cheese" for Patsy this morning.
Photo by Patsy Lieberman
I went out to get the paper this morning and there on the stems of my rose bush remain two glorious blooms. Last year, I remember a cone flower that hung in until after Thanksgiving. Looks like our hard freeze once again is delayed thanks to global climate change. 

Rosa Gruss An Aachen is my first successful rose. It also represents my maturity as a gardener. The first roses that I bought and planted failed because I cared more about their evocative names than about their finicky needs.  "Eleanor" and "Passionate Kisses"--may they rest in peace. I had just been up to Hyde Park and toured Eleanor Roosevelt's home and retreat, Val-Kill, and was harboring a secret fantasy that I maybe could have been that great lady's friend and perhaps then, been invited to sit in those comfy chairs she kept in her living room and discussed the events of the day. 

And "Passionate Kisses," well need I say more? What else do you do on the weekends before or after you garden?

But last winter, I decided I'd let a rose chose me instead. Rosa Gruss An Aachen came about in 1909 after a German breeder named Philipp Geduldig paired the imperial Frau Karl Druschki' with the commoner 'Franz Deegan.(And I have no idea if those roses are royal or plebe, I'm just reacting to their names.)

The result was the first of the Floribundas. That term means that big heady roses with multiple petals grow in clusters from a single stem, thus seeming to defy gravity, and making for a very sturdy stem. I selected Gruss (gross name?) because my purveyor, Wayside Gardens, promised it would grow in partial shade. Here's where the maturity part comes in. I have long referred to my front fence garden, by sheer force of will, as a sun garden. It's not. It's not sunny like sunny should be, 6 to 8 hours. It's more like four or five.

Well, Gruss had a will to live, because I nearly killed her too. When the plant arrived in the mail on a Monday, I couldn't tend to her immediate needs. She should have been removed from the packaging and put into water. I stuck her on a dark shelf, still partially packaged and forgot about her until the following weekend. When I planted her, the stems stayed dead-like for what seemed like weeks this spring. And I was fairly certain that I'd failed yet again. But just as Gruss took her sweet time to green up and grow, she now refuses to give it up for winter. So in her honor, I sat on the sofa this morning, tears streaming down my face, listening to the sweet, dulcet tones of the lovely women in the group, Celtic Woman, singing Thomas Moore's 1805 poem, "The Last Rose of Summer."

'Tis the last rose of summer
Left blooming alone;
All her lovely companions
Are faded and gone;
No flower of her kindred,
No rosebud is nigh,
To reflect back her blushes,
To give sigh for sigh.
I'll not leave thee, thou lone one!
To pine on the stem;
Since the lovely are sleeping,
Go, sleep thou with them.
Thus kindly I scatter,
Thy leaves o'er the bed,
Where thy mates of the garden
Lie scentless and dead.
So soon may I follow,
When friendships decay,
From Love's shining circle
The gems drop away.
When true hearts lie withered
And fond ones are flown,
Oh! who would inhabit,
This bleak world alone?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Laying In My Books For the Winter And Thoughts on Emily Dickinson

I just went crazy with one-click shopping on Amazon. I don't know how I'll manage to read all those books that I just bought. But sitting here on my comfy, white sofa this morning, my ankles feel chilly even as the furnace is trying to warm the room and I am thinking about reading my way through the cold winter months. I am wishing that I could burrow in and just absorb print material through the pores of my skin. Because I just simply don't have all the time that I need to keep up with all the reading that I should be doing, let alone the reading that I just want to do.

The books I bought are all old titles: Michael Pollen's Second Nature; Margery Fish's We Made a Garden; Eleanor Perenyi's Green Thoughts; Emily Herring Wilson's biography of Elizabeth Lawrence and finally, Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass.

There's something seductive about an old book. I buy them from the used section of Amazon and when they come, many of them are hand wrapped. Sometimes, the book seller will write a little note card and drop it into the package. "Enjoy!" The pages might smell a little musty, or there's an inscription on the title page.

In my Emily Dickinson book that I ordered last winter, it says: "June, This is one of your Christmas books. Merry Christmas and many, many more. With much love, Mom, 1981."  I  wonder why June would give away such a lovely gift from her mother. (Note to June's Mother: Don't worry Mom, maybe June will have second thoughts and come looking for it. I'll keep it safe.)

I just randomly opened to this offering from Emily, perhaps she hints at what befell the book's previous owners.

Forget! The lady with the Amulet
Forget she wore it at her Heart
Because she breathed against
Was Treason twixt?

Deny! Did Rose her Bee--
For Privilege of Play
Or Wile of Butterfly
Or Opportunity--Her Lord Away?

The lady with the Amulet--will fade--
The Bee--in Mausoleum laid--
Discard his Bride--
But longer than the little Rill--
That cooled the Forehead of the Hill--
While Other--went to Sea to fill--
And Other--went to turn the Mill--
I'll do thy Will--

I think Emily Dickinson must have been bored with her life. I picture her stowed away in her bedroom, scrawling love sick, coded poems on thick pieces of paper before squirreling them away. Her only outings  to her garden. Likely, she didn't work too hard there either. Her privileged family would have afforded a caretaker to do all the backbreaking work keeping all things there lovely. So poor Emily had nothing to do but  sit quietly observing the interplay of the interloopers, "The Bird did prance--the Bee did play--" And writing and reading was her only outlet.

She, of course, didn't have the distractions of my life. A job, a social life, a dog, children, husband, the laundry. Would she have fussed about meals and menus? Would she have thought at all about fitness and health? She wouldn't be thinking how she might fit in a run before having to head off to have her hair trimmed. Or counted off the precious hours of the weekend before Monday's rapid-fire pace loomed once again.

See, she had to have been bored. This I will never be. (Nor will I ever write poetry). And as I said, likely I won't even find the time to read all those books. But for the moment, I do enjoy the fantasy of it all. Me. A musty book. Languidly lying about. The Putterer

Saturday, November 13, 2010

I Compost, Therefore I Am

You cannot know the true joy of life until you've turned over leaf litter and sniffed deeply the sweet, raw odor of a compost pile in heat. By all other accomplishments available to you on this earth, and this includes even the engineering of a concrete and steel pylon six-lane bridge, you will not know success until you have made your own compost.
I am at this time gathering my leaves and mowing them into bits and putting them in the large compost bins that Montgomery County graciously gives to me free of charge. (Look at this picture that Patsy took about a month ago of my deck overlooking the forest behind my house. See all of the leaves that are available to me for my compost.) I can turn mountains of leaves into small bags of leaf bits in just a few hours. Even without any other green matter, the brown leaves are already toasty warm in their bins. A good compost recipe requires layers of green grass commingled with brown leaf matter. I also collect my kitchen waste and I bury it into the leaf bins. And no, I don't have rats or mice invading the pile. I do have in the summertime, tons and tons of earthworms, living in my bin, and helping to make rich, fertile material for my garden.

In the springtime, my multiple bins of leaves are all reduced enough in mass that I can turn all of them into one. And then finally, I distribute the rich material into my flower beds.

Last year in early spring, I used the partially composted leaves as the bottom layer of my lasagna garden, which I built up with sticks and newspaper and compost and garden soil, and which grew so delightfully warm that I was able to grow lettuce on top of it very early in the season.

At this time of year, beware my proselytizing. I am a fanatic about composting. And I am on a quest to convert as many of you as possible. But be not afraid, you too can compost. And if  I see you raking your leaves into the street for the county to sweep away into those foul-smelling vacuum trucks, I might judge you for your wastefulness. The Putterer

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Naked Garden

There was an original garden once where Adam met Eve and they hit it off big time. From my limited Bible knowledge, neither of them was properly clothed at the time, nor did they realize in their joyous celebration that they were sinners. Until they ate that bad apple and then all hell broke loose and the two naked lovers grabbed some fig leaves and covered themselves.

My garden is shedding all of its summer robes and vestments and revealing its bare naked bones and this is the time that I start re-imagining its structure. The slope at the back is revealed again. The paths are clearly delineated. I can see the places where I made errors and the places where it all came together. I've got a grand plan (that would need heavy investing) to fence out a corner and create a better vegetable garden with a wall so high that any deer trying to leap in would smash his sweet Bambi face and go elsewhere.

Nakedness is on my mind for other reasons too. I'm thinking of the  Puritanical brethren and Bible-thumping conservatives out there beyond my secular bubble. I'm talking about those wing nuts that I keep encountering on my Facebook page. (Recently, I was unfriended for being too liberal and another effectively called me a communist. Sheesh! Here's a song for you, my sweeties.)

So I'm wondering if the sign posted recently in our gym locker room has anything to do with this bitter zeal and hostility that seems to be trending in our great divided nation. The sign declared new locker room etiquette rules.

And incredibly, item "number 4" chastized all of us for being naked in the locker room! According to the new rules, we must cover ourselves while walking to the showers and getting dressed. Now, for those of you who workout in the gyms across the land, you all know that there is usually a place for the modest to go behind a curtain. But for the great vast numbers of us, the locker room tradition is to bare all. In our gym, we have a rockin', good time talking up our lives and laughing together as we cleanup, dry off and primp ourselves back to business casual.

The amusing notion of getting dressed while hiding behind a towel makes for a contortionist's nightmare. I mean if God meant for us to be clothed all the time, wouldn't She have given us a third arm with which to hold the towel up?

I don't know. I'm feeling so edgy these days with all the intemperate outbursts and hate mongering and unabashed name calling, I feel like doing something in my garden in protest, something terribly anti-establishment, like ripping off my clothes Adam and Eve-like and dancing to Lily Allen's FU song.

Glad to get that off my naked chest. The Putterer