Monday, December 27, 2010


          Welcome back! Hope you all had yourselves merry little Christmases. I enjoyed the time off from the computer, but am happy to be typing away again this afternoon.  

          I had my teeth cleaned this morning. Because I take really good care of my choppers and don’t suffer from excessive dentophobia, it was an enjoyable experience. In the course of conversation, such as it is with someone else’s hands in your mouth, the hygienist, Jamie, mentioned her 15-year-old daughter had made an insightful comment a few days ago. “Mom,” she’d said, “the whole Christmas season is just one big excuse. An excuse to buy whatever you want, eat whatever you want, drink whatever you want and it’s all okay because it’s Christmas.

Desolation in the vegetable garden
            Out of the mouths of babes.
            This past weekend, a good chunk of the East Coast disappeared under a blanket of snow, which is a big deal here in the South. Raleigh enjoyed—if that’s the word—its first white Christmas in over six decades; Atlanta had plodded through green Yules for more than a century until this year. Having lived in upstate New York for 20 years, I know for a fact, Der Bingle notwithstanding, white Christmases are overrated. Oak Island escaped any significant accumulation, although flakes filtered down desultorily out of a pensive grey sky all of Boxing Day, only to melt upon contact with our unfrozen ground. Sunday chores being Sunday chores regardless of weather, I went outside to feed the birds, turn the compost and go walkabout. Brought the camera along to capture the garden in solemn mode.

Passiflora, past
            “What a mess,” I thought, peering through the viewfinder.

            Pitiful remains of once glorious passionflower, sere, brittle stalks of various genera of daisies, liatris and amsonias, veronica and butterfly weed, false indigo and sea holly, daylilies and phlox, cannas and crinums crackled underfoot. The semi-woody stems of my humongous seashore mallow (Kosteletzkya virginica) creaked querulously in the no-nonsense northwest wind. The hodge-podginess of the assemblage struck me, hard.

            I’ve neglected my own garden for the past few years. When I paw through my not-very-well-organized photo files searching for pictures for articles and such, shots of the glory days of the middle part of this decade reproach me.

            Fortunately, I have lots of excuses. 
The garden glory days

1.      I’m too busy. I work at gardening for others, I do all our business and personal paperwork, I’m Fitzgeralds Gardening’s CFO. I write articles for magazines and this blog. I keep journals. I spend hours on the phone every month with my kids and my female relatives. (Okay, not so much with the boys these days. Little buggers went and got their own lives.) I email a lot, and in the form of real letters, complete with greetings and closings, indented paragraphs, correct spelling, and complete sentences. I subscribe to six gardening magazines and The Writer. I buy books like they’re going out of style. I’m addicted to BBC cozy mysteries. My Monday-through-Saturday home chores include doing dishes and laundry, and what passes for the weekly houseclean. (F.Y.I., Tim does all the cooking, maintains both our trucks and the mechanical house systems, mows the lawn and cleans the litter box. Everything else we share, except the ironing. Nobody does that.)

2.      I’m too old. I get tired easier. I get cranky easier. I choose not to go outside when it’s too hot. I refuse to go outside when it’s too cold. My knees are getting creaky. I have one dodgy elbow. Those 50-pound bags of Kow don’t get any lighter.

3.      I’m too disorganized. Whatever tool I want is invariably somewhere else. I don’t always remember just where I put it last, either.

4.      I’m too distractible. I frequently have trouble making myself stick to finishing one task before dithering off to tend to some other, usually unrelated, little job. (Ask Tim for corroboration. This trait of mine drives him nuts.)

5.      Nature is against me. After all, she invented mosquitoes, fleas, biting flies, no-see-ums, pickleworms, sand spurs and poison ivy.

            Standing amidst the wreckage of my garden, I heaved a deep, discouraged sigh.

Defiant Lycoris radiata
in front of  frozen Siberian iris

But then I looked closer, and the line from Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind” came to mind: “If winter comes, can spring be far behind?”

            In front of a frozen clump of Siberian iris, graceful white-striped blades of Lycoris radiata (spider lily) foliage defied all of this December’s miserable weather. Likewise, stokes aster (Stokesia laevis) rosettes and the stubby sword-shaped leaves of Peruvian squill (Scilla peruviana) hunkered down, unrepentantly verdant. Even in the blasted vegetable garden, the strawberry plants promised better days on the way. On the other side of the yard, the squirrels have left about 20 buds on the paperbush (Edgeworthia chysantha), and the hardy cyclamen (Cyclamen hederifolium) foliage glowed.
Cyclamen hederifolium,
a bright spot in winter

            Over the years, we occasionally undertook jobs that felt like we’d bitten off more than we could chew once we got to work on the ground. Tim always rallied the troops (me) by saying, “Think like an ant. Concentrate on moving one grain of sand at a time. That’s how we’ll work through this—one grain at a time.” (I always kind of expected him to break into a rousing chorus of “High Hopes,” but he never did.)

            He’s right, though. Doesn’t matter if I’m too tired, too ancient, too flustered, too fluttery, too flummoxed. All I have to do is pick up the grain closest to me, and shift it.
eleagnus hedge

            Okay, so what if the eleagnus hedge and the wisteria are out of control? I know what to do about that. Whack away. Good stress reliever. So what if my garden is a formless mass of random vegetation? I can handle rearranging that, too, with a plan on paper translated to moving first one plant, then another. Pickleworms threatening the cucurbits again? Plant earlier, keep them under row-cover. January’s traditionally a quiet month for the Fitzes, work-wise: I can use part of that down-time to whip 2011’s gardens into some kind of shape.

            That is, as soon as the temperatures moderate, the wind calms down, those two Carolina Gardener articles get sent out, my neck stops aching and my allergies abate. After all, in addition to being the time of year for resolutions, ’tis also the season for excuses, right?

            Thanks for stopping by. Will let you know how I get on.

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