28 May 2009

gardeners’ hands no. 1

One morning in April I was standing in the shower looking at my hands. They were battle-scarred from working in the gardens without gloves for two days: dirty fingernails, grime ground in to the fingertips, the backs of them covered with scratches (I’d spent an hour pruning the blackberries). It struck me that they were true instruments of cultivation.

Last year I posted a photograph of my favorite rake; so I thought: Hmmm, why not post a photograph of my most useful gardening tool? But a photo of just my hands would be kind of boring—I mean, really, who cares?

And then I had an idea: Wouldn’t it be interesting to see a whole bunch of gardeners’ hands in the same place so that one could compare and contrast them? An online photographic exhibition of the hands of all my friends who garden would be neat and personal and fun, I thought.

And then I thought: Well, get cracking! Maybe I can convince a few of my gardening friends to send me photos of their hands and a sentence or two that I could post here. So I wrote to Anna at Flower Garden Girl, Nancy Bond at Soliloquy , and Wing Nut and Curmudgeon at Weed Whackin’ Wenches, all of whom sent beautiful photographs and a few words about the photograph and/or their hands.

I want to post more photos of hands, but I need my gardening friends’ help! Will you send me a photograph of your hands, preferably both hands in one frame, either fresh from the garden or all cleaned up, and maybe a sentence or two or more about them? My e-mail address is jb*sta*mm@*y*aho*o.com (remove the * and type what’s left into your address field).

Here is the first installment of gardeners’ hands:

Anna at Flower Garden Girl: This photo was taken in my laundry/sewing room where all the gardening books are stored. It’s also the place where I have the Gardening Card Project, several quilts that are unfinished, many pieces of memories I could not stand to part with, and it is the source of all things smelling good. I love the smell of clean laundry. I’m a nurturer. I cradle my family and friends and hold them gently in my heart. I always knew I wanted to garden, be a mom, be a wife, and be a friend. I was not born for fame but had a desire to shine in the hearts of my loved ones. I have a thing for hands ’cause they tell a lot about a person. I have my mother’s hands. They do not have long fingers but they are strong and sure. They can be counted on, and you think of them when your tummy starts growling. I didn’t use to wear gloves but I’ve gotten so I do. I like to keep my hands nice for MrD. However, I cannot plant the small six packs of annuals with gloves on. It just can’t be done. I do love the Foxgloves that are thin but I also go through quite a few pairs of cheap old hard-working gloves. They are too heavy to wash so I just go get another five-dollar pair. I might feel differently if I had a really nice pair but have never owned them.

Nancy Bond at Soliloquy: These hands have dug in a lot of dirt, done a lot of dishes, soothed a lot of boo-boos, and held a lot of hands—both as a mom and in my work as a paramedic. I guess it’s okay if they start to show their age.

Wing Nut and Curmudgeon at Weed Whackin’ Wenches: Here is our pic: “Picking rhubarb”!

My photograph is from last spring when I redug the daylily bed. I have my dad’s hands: long fingers, squared-off nails. I know I should wear gloves, but like Anna, I really like to feel what I’m planting or pulling. The result is that from April through November my hands are dirty and covered with scrapes and scratches.

Neat, eh? Now will you send me a photograph of your hands?

crazy person’s fire escape

I’ve got 18 pots of dahlias growing out there, three roses to be planted this weekend, two small perennials from White Flower Farm just getting going, and a pot of fairy lilies. When will the fire department come and write me a ticket for obstructing access to our escape route? I wonder.

I guess it’s the 18 pots of dahlias that are a little nuts.

this really must stop

My coworker Gina sent me an e-mail: “Look at all these different colors of astilbe!” And she included a link to American Meadows, which—it is true—has lots of different colors of astilbe. And quite a little sale going on right now with half-off perennials until tomorrow and, for a limited time, $4.95 shipping on any order.

So we went in together and bought four flame-red Astilbe japonica “Montgomery,” two for Gina and two for me. Bargain.

And lucky me to have a coworker who is similarly smitten with plants.

surprise allium

Over the last year I’ve been spending some time clearing out the area way down under the old lilacs to the south of the house. It’s absolutely full shade, so I’m dividing hostas and encouraging pachysandra and Brunnera to move on in. Earlier this spring I planted a little patch of lily of the valley under a maple tree, and two nights ago I took advantage of Bluestone Perennials’ half-off sale (through Sunday, 31 May, so hie thee to the nursery for some amazing deals) to order three Hosta “Gold Standard.” (And two grasses—Miscanthus sinensis “Zebrinus,” to which B has taken a fancy, and Panicum virgatum “Cloud Nine,” which has struck mine and doesn’t require full sun—but they’re for elsewhere.)

On Monday afternoon I was noodling around among the hostas and lilies of the valley and Lobelia cardinalis (which in bloom really does glow from the shade, I’m just saying), pulling weeds and mussing the leaf cover a bit, when I came face to face with broad, strappy leaves and a long stem. I followed the stem up and discovered the most beautiful allium blossom. I didn’t plant him; I didn’t notice him last year or before; I don’t know where he came from!

But I am very happy to welcome him to the shade garden.

I wonder if he and his leaves were there all along but only got the light they needed last year in order to send up a bloom this year. Just lovely. And a nice surprise.

27 May 2009

exactly what the doctor ordered

Memorial Day 2009 from our new hammock. God bless Lowe’s and a small stack of gift cards B and I have been accumulating. It’s remarkable what a laze in a hammock on a sunny day does for one’s sense of well-being.

not quite what the doctor ordered

It’s a pretty little lily of the valley to be sure. You can almost smell the blossoms, and the white is so pure, so clean. I should be thrilled that the pips I planted and grew on the fire escape in the city are healthy and capable of producing these lovely flowers.

Well, I would be (and I mostly am), except for the fact that they’re supposed to be pink. I ordered three relatively expensive pips of Convallaria majalis Rosea from White Flower Farm earlier this spring; potted them up as soon as they arrived; and then counted the days until the buds appeared, swelled, and opened.

They’re not pink.

This is what they should look like (photograph courtesy of White Flower Farm)

I think it will be a good use of 15 minutes of my time to jot a note to customer service in the hope of getting a little satisfaction. I’m still kicking myself that I didn’t write to McClure & Zimmerman a few years ago to alert them to the sad fact that most of the 96 Allium moly I ordered turned out to be little better than chives. And non-blooming chives at that.


19 May 2009


It is lilac time up in Hebron. B and I remarked to each other this weekend as we were out and about that we don’t think we've ever seen the lilacs in Washington County as full of blossoms as they are this year. Each stand we passed is crammed with flowers. Even our old lilacs (which will get the last bit of their hard three-year pruning in June) are covered with blooms. We didn’t realize we had so many old white lilacs; we know now, because they are announcing themselves this spring in a very big way!

B is proud of the way the ones he’s been pruning are coming to life again; when he began taking down the very oldest branches a few years back, he was afraid he’d killed the bushes. They’re the ones that are blooming most enthusiastically this year.

The three lilacs we bought and planted on B’s birthday last year, though only four feet tall this spring, are showing us what they can do, too. I want to tell them: Hey! Slow down! You have years ahead of you! We’re delighted, though, that they seem to be settling in. “Pocahontas” has dark purple, very strong-scented blooms; “Madame Lemoine” is pure white and also exceptionally fragrant; and “Beauty of Moscow” (“Krasavitsa Moskvy”) has pink buds that open into doubled blossoms the barest shade of pink off from white: It is a stunner. At one point on Sunday afternoon, I was taking a break from mowing—just standing and looking out at the field across the road from us—and I realized I was breathing in lilac-scented air.

B cut a bucket of branches to bring back to the city. He took some to his friend Stephanie in a marshmallow Fluff container (makes a good vase, and Stephanie likes Fluff); the others we are enjoying at home.

12 May 2009

go go gardening by letter project!

Last Thursday evening I came home from work, walked up the stairs to our apartment (which looks like it’s in a cave judging from the light in the photo above), and was delighted to find a very large envelope on the welcome mat from flowergardengirl. I wish you’d seen the grin on my face.

I wrote a quick note to Anna to tell her it had arrived and that I was taking it north with me so that I could open it in the place where I actually garden. You know how that goes: 45 minutes into my train ride on Saturday morning, I decided I couldn’t wait any longer. Out came the envelope from my briefcase, zip went my finger along the flap, and wow WOW! were the words I said when I looked inside. I must have been a happy sight early on a Saturday morning: Who’s the guy chortling over there next to the window?

Thank you all so much (if I could scrawl a big thick line under each word, I would) for the thought and care you took with the contents of that envelope. I’ll visit each of your blogs and thank you in person, but I want you to know that I’m eager to start the seeds (lucky me to be the April recipient, just the right time for planting!), write (or simply pass along; what a good idea) the cards, drink the tea, take the napkins on a picnic to the red barn, listen to tales from Ireland, and dream about the far-off, beautiful gardens of my blogging friends (I hadn’t realized we’re such an international group).

A million and one thanks from me to all of you! Catherine, recipient for the lusty month of May, I tell you: You are in for a huge treat!

Thank you, Anna, for being the ringleader and den mother. This is FUN!

09 May 2009

poem for mother's day

I was not a particularly rebellious son, but I still understand where this poem lives. And the last two stanzas are huge. I listened to this on “The Writer’s Almanac” this afternoon as I was driving home.

To My Mother
by Wendell Berry

I was your rebellious son,
do you remember? Sometimes
I wonder if you do remember,
so complete has your forgiveness been.

So complete has your forgiveness been
I wonder sometimes if it did not
precede my wrong, and I erred,
safe found, within your love,

prepared ahead of me, the way home,
or my bed at night, so that almost
I should forgive you, who perhaps
foresaw the worst that I might do,

and forgave before I could act,
causing me to smile now, looking back,
to see how paltry was my worst,
compared to your forgiveness of it

already given. And this, then,
is the vision of that Heaven of which
we have heard, where those who love
each other have forgiven each other,

where, for that, the leaves are green,
the light a music in the air,
and all is unentangled,
and all is undismayed.

From Entries, by Wendell Berry. © Pantheon Books, 1994.

05 May 2009

check! new dahlia tubers planted

On Sunday afternoon I went hunting in the garage for plastic pots to use to start my dahlias. Tonight I planted the first four. These are new tubers I ordered this year from Old House Gardens: “Clair de Lune,” “Giraffe,” “White Fawn,” and “Winsome.” All four are already showing signs of growth, so it is with high hopes and great expectations that I potted them up, watered them, and put them in the bathroom on the floor for the night. If tomorrow is warmer and sunnier than today, they will spend eight hours on the fire escape.

I also brought back the tubers I dug last fall, buried in peat moss, and stored in our basement. They are huge clumps. If I were to plant all of them in separate pots, I’d have about 40 plants. Not enough room on the fire escape! Hmmm, maybe I’ll ask Alan if he’d let me park some of the sprouts on his roof until it’s time to set them out.

I planted my White Flower Farm purchases this weekend up near the prayer shack on the edge of the orchard, watered them in, and am crossing my fingers. The quince was a little wilted, but I’m hoping he recovers. Also planted a yellow magnolia, a pagoda dogwood, a candelabra primose, and a pulmonaria. On the fire escape in the city I’m watching a globeflower and a pink lily of the valley sprout. When they’re bigger and more established, I’ll plant them in the garden.

Very excited! My favorite time of year!

02 May 2009

b shoots the moon

While preparations were made for B’s birthday dinner this afternoon, he went outside to gather a few flowers for the table—which resulted in about ten vases’ worth of daffodils, hyacinths, tulips, and poet’s narcissus arranged in a ring around a hurricane shade. The center of the table looked insane, and the fragrance was wonderful.

Our friend Betty came over to celebrate with us. We ate pork roasted with garlic and (our) rosemary and served with (our) gooseberry sauce. B blew out the candles on a vanilla cake with buttercream icing accompanied by Concord grape ice cream made with grapes from Alan’s rooftop garden in New York City. The ice cream was and is really, really good: tart, not too sweet, and a pretty color, too.

Happy birthday, B!