Thursday, March 7, 2013


Harper Lee (courtesy of The Guardian)

            Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about Harper Lee. When asked why she never published a second novel after To Kill a Mockingbird, she’d say something like, “I guess I didn’t have anything else I wanted to say.”

            As the weeks slide past and my muse apparently has taken herself off on an extended vacation, it occurs to me that perhaps I don’t have anything left I want to say either. About gardening, I mean.

            Knowing when to quit is an inexact science—just look at Claude Monet’s “Water Lilies” and the chunky-breasted bathers of Renoir’s last years, the post-Ludlum Bourne books and that pathetic “sequel” to Gone with the Wind Alexandra Somebody foisted on us, or string theory. As a believer in the law of diminishing returns, I feel it’s time to put “Gardening from the Ground Up” out to pasture. Long may she graze in cyber-space, in 18-to-29-second hits.

            To Billie, and Julie, and Chuck, and Yvonne and Karen and Margaret: you know where to find me if you want. I so appreciate your support and the comments and conversations. Just so you know: that part doesn’t have to end.

The old writer
            To paraphrase Douglas MacArthur (that self-promoting SOB), old writers never die. They just turn the page.

            One last time, thanks for dropping by.


Saturday, January 26, 2013


            Sorry about the hiatus. It’s been cold-ish here the past two weeks and, except for gainful activity, I retreated inside to spend a good bit of time with my loom. While warmly warping and wefting, it occurred to me there are many similarities between weaving and gardening.

            With both crafts, it helps a lot to have a plan before leaping into action. If what you want to accomplish is simple and straightforward—such as one-note containers or single-color plain weave—sometimes winging it works: more often it doesn’t. Because of a certain, ahem, predisposition on my part to preciseness (I’m anal as hell), I prefer designing every project in two dimensions, to scale if at all possible.

A simple one-color, balanced weave project...
...or plopping a bunch of hens-&-chicks in a pot doesn't require a lot of advance planning.

But some simple-seeming weavings...
...or color-blocked pots of violas benefit from some prior thought.

            Not that a lovely drawing ensures success on the loom/ground. Landscapers who slavishly follow beautiful, curvy, landscape-architect-rendered drawings often find themselves in plant-replacement nightmares punctuated by increasingly menacing phone calls from unhappy clients. Back in the day when Tim and I took on new-construction installations, we learned early on that any paper plan is purely advisory. In the real world, things evolve. In the real world, the grand design emerges over time. Still, it helps to have some idea of where you’re going before you rev the engine and back out of the driveway.

Garden plans evolve from establishing the "bones" of a space... filling in the details.

            Both weaving and gardening require an openness to rearranging elements on the fly. Translating some approximation of your mind’s two-dimensional conception into three-dimensions pleasing to the eye determines the ultimate success or failure of any design. Trust your instincts while you’re working. They’re never wrong.

Weaving plans also evolve. Observe Take 1...
...and Take 2 for the same piece.
            In some ways, though, weaving feels more intense than gardening. Lose concentration for a few passes on the loom, and the pattern and/or selvages show it. Not that gardening is mindless, of course. Even weeding requires a modicum of attention if you want to be sure you haven’t plucked out all your dad’s asparagus plants about 43 minutes before they bear. For the first time. Since he’d planted them three years previously. (See November 11, 2011’s “Looking Back” for the whole sad story.) 
            The ultimate goal of any endeavor—weaving, gardening, painting, golf—is a result. If at first you don’t succeed, figure out what went wrong, and try, try again. Screw-ups just mean you’ve had an opportunity to learn something. Tim has taken as his mantra an adage that says an individual has to paint a mile of canvas before he starts to get really good at it. The number grows to 20 miles of yarn when applied to weaving. We’ve killed thousands of plants over the years figuring out how to garden in North Carolina. So stick with it, whatever “it” is for you. At the risk of sounding unbearably sanctimonious, if you love to do it, it’s worth doing until you do it well.   
This is how the garden turned out...
...and here's the final incarnation of that weaving.
            Three “it”s in one sentence! Must be near time to plug in the pictures and thank y’all for dropping by.

            Thanks for dropping by, y’all.


Saturday, January 12, 2013


             By way of backstory: Poetry magazine just ended its year-long celebration of 100 years in print. In conjunction with this milestone, they published The Open Door: 100 Poems, 100 Years of Poetry, a copy of which I duly procured.

            [Note to poetry fans: it’s a good collection, spanning the ins and outs of the genre over the last century. The thumbnail biographies, although annoyingly freighted with prizes, awards, and past or present teaching positions, are particularly fascinating. Almost a third of the poets represented either committed suicide or died in bizarre circumstances. For example, Frank O’Hara was struck and killed by a dune buggy on Fire Island. Weldon Kees is presumed to have leapt from the Golden Gate Bridge. Randall Jarrell stepped into the path of a oncoming car in Chapel Hill, NC. Hart Crane jumped off a steamship into the Gulf of Mexico. Craig Arnold disappeared while clambering around volcanoes in Japan. And we all know how Sylvia Plath ended up.

            See how these digressions proliferate? Keep reading—it gets worse.]

            Anyway. Ray Bradbury said writers must read poetry every day, so I do. This morning The Open Door opened to the William Carlos Williams snippet, “Of asphodel, that greeny flower,” from the fifth volume of his epic dense and largely unintelligible Paterson. It goes like this:

“Of asphodel, that greeny flower, the least,

                        that is a simple flower

                                                like a buttercup upon its

branching stem, save

                        that it’s green and wooden

                                                We’ve had a long life

and many things have happened in it.

                        There are flowers also

                                                in hell. So today I’ve come

to talk to you about them, among

                        other things, of flowers

                                                that we both love, even

of the poor, colorless

                        thing which no one living

                                                prizes but the dead see

and ask among themselves,

                        What do we remember that was shaped

                                                as this thing

is shaped? as their eyes


                                                with tears. By which

and by the weak wash of crimson

                        colors it, the rose

                                                is predicated.”

Asphodelus ramosus, branched asphodel
            All new-to-me-plant sensors aquiver, I lumbered into the kitchen for coffee and to type “asphodel” in the Google search bar. Ninety minutes later, I knew that there are 17 species of tuberous Asphodelus, and as many, if not more, genera with the common name “false asphodel.” Taxonomists, apparently bored now that Aster has been successfully rechristened Symphyotrichum,  recently moved asphodel from the lily family, Liliaceae, to the much harder to pronounce Xanthorrhoeaceae (zan-thor-REE-uh-cee-ee, I’m guessing, from the Greek for yellow—xanthos—and flow—rheo—referring to the resin the plants may or may not excrete), which also contains the daylily and the single-species Australian grasstree sub-families. All of them originate in Mediterranean-like environments.

            [For a graphic look at how those wacky taxonomists operate, check out the phylogenic tree in Wikipedia’s Xanthorrhoeaceae entry.]

When is an asphodel not an asphodel? When it's a de affodil.

            Another interesting lexicographic wrinkle is that the word “daffodil” may have come from a corruption of asphodel, “affodil”; specifically, from the bulb-loving Dutch de affodil. This in turn might explain why the blog UrbanArt Wallpapers offers a picture of a mini-daff to beautify your computer screen and calls it asphodel.  

Asphodel tubers, yummy when boiled
            Asphodels have an impressive recorded history. As Williams tells us, they are the flowers of Hades. In The Odyssey, Homer blankets the Elysian fields of the Isles of the Blessed with them. Ancient Greeks believed they were the favorite food of the dead, and planted them near graves. This belief was reinforced by the fact that poor Greeks boiled and ate the tubers. In case you’re interested (or hungry), most parts of the plant are edible when cooked.

Asphodelus aestivus/ramosus/microcarpus

My research leads me to believe Williams’ “greeny flower” refers to Asphodelus ramosus, or branched asphodel, pictured above. In yet another example of taxonomic love of confusion, A. ramosus (“branching”) is synonymous with A. aestivus (“of summer”) and A. microcarpus (“small fruit”), depending on which Linnaean descendant you personally rely upon.

This is how I’ve blown a perfectly lovely mild and sunny January Saturday. I am in good hopes that further cyber-digging will bring me to a source for asphodels—the real ones, not the fakes—to plant in my yard. Should I ever turn off the computer and go out to dig in the yard instead. I’ll let you know how that works out.

Thanks for dropping by.


Prunus mume 'Peggy Clarke'

 P.S. -- Look what was blooming on our deck this morning! Why, it's spicy-scented 'Peggy Clarke' ornamental apricot!

Monday, January 7, 2013


             Lots of neat things happen over our heads in the depths of winter. Like what? you ask. Well, for starters, Earth reached its annual perihelion with the sun on New Year’s Day, when the center of our planet cozied up to within a mere 91.4 million miles of Old Sol. Did’ja notice how unseasonably warm it was? No, probably not here in the Northern Hemisphere. Aphelion, or the greatest distance between star and planet, occurs on July 5th, when the wobble in Earth’s orbit makes us 94.5 million miles distant. Save the date!

            Also under the rubric of “You’ve Already Missed It,” the annual Quadrantid meteor shower reached its peak in the wee hours of the third. Didn’t know about meteor showers other than the Perseids in August?  Gracious, there are six others besides the two mentioned above over the course of the year: the Lyrids in April; the Eta Aquarids in May; the Southern Delta Aquarids in July; the Orionids in October; the Leonids in November; and the Geminids in December. Except for the Quadrantids, meteors emanate from a radiant, or a specific area of the sky, named for a constellation—Lyra, Aquarius, Perseus, Orion, Leo, and Gemini. The Quadrantids’ radiant is Bootes. Perhaps astronomy’s equivalent of taxonomists couldn’t quite stretch to the inane sounding “Bootids.”

            Moving right along to events that are not entirely past, The Globe at Night light-pollution tracking project is calling for citizen-scientist observations of Orion January 3 to 12. This is the first of five opportunities this winter and spring to add your bit to charting where starlight can still be enjoyed. Go to The Globe at Night’s website for information on collecting and submitting data.

What Orion looked like from my front yard last January

            Winter’s cold and clear nighttime skies provide great opportunities for well-bundled-up star watchers. At this time of year, nine of the 25 brightest stars in the sky are visible within or on the perimeter of the asterism known as The Great Winter Circle. Using Orion’s belt as a starting point, it’s easy to find them all. Going out around 10 pm, draw an imaginary line southeast through the three belt stars to the brightest star in the sky, the Dog Star, or Sirius. At a distance of only slightly more than eight light-years from Earth, proximity accounts for his brightness to our eyes. His distinctive blue color indicates that he is hotter than our Sun.

If you lengthen your imaginary line clockwise from Sirius, the next bright object you’ll intersect is Procyon, Sirius’s little brother in Canis Minor. Another near neighbor of Earth, he lies only 11 light-years away. 

The Great Winter Circle (or Hexagon), as presented on Suite 101
(Betelgeuse is over the "n" in "Orion")

           Continuing the clockwise arc, you run into Pollux and Castor, the Twin Stars of Gemini. Sitting at the northernmost point of the circle is golden Capella, the constellation Auriga’s brightest star. Swooshing down and around to the southwest brings you past Jupiter to Aldebaran, the fiery red "eye" of Taurus, the Bull, Orion's prey.

Closing the circle is brilliant blue Rigel, marking one of Orion’s knees (or his right foot, depending on the source). Although from our vantage point Rigel looks a lot like Sirius, the two stars are very different. Rigel, a blue supergiant, is more than 100 times farther away than the Dog Star:  its luminosity is greater than 50,000 of our Suns. In other words, were Rigel as close to Earth as Sirius, it would appear as big as a full moon, and scare us all silly.

Betelgeuse, the ruddy star marking Orion’s shoulder, sits at the center of this "Great Winter Circle.” A red supergiant that has consumed all of the hydrogen at its center, Betelgeuse is nearing the end of his life… but he’ll still outlast all of us.

I find looking up to be a grounding activity. My petty problems and woes shrink away to nearly nothing in the presence of the silence and majesty of the cosmos. Digging in the dirt and staring at the stars brings balance to a life. And, if you’re in a pickle over something and can’t do one, you can do the other until you regain perspective. Works for me, anyway.

Thanks for dropping by.


P.S.—Want to learn more? These three websites will get you on your way: Sea and Sky; Suite 101; and the U.S. Naval Observatory’s SkyGuy’s up-to-the-minute posts on The Sky This Week.