samedi 3 mai 2008

Dig a hole

The Rhododendron
nobody wanted

It has waited 2 or 3 years at Florosny for a hole of its own filled with nice acid soil, and now it has waited a week for me to get to it. Already that it stayed at the nursery so long is incredible. I have never seen a plant go without being sold for that kind of time, but maybe they ordered one too many a couple years ago, and once it sits there in its undersized pot long enough, it looks worse and worse. No one wants that plant. It's Charlie Brown's Christmas tree.

My plant dealer, Victor, grabbed me by the elbow one day a couple of weeks ago, and asked me if I would take a rhododendron off him for "next to nothing". I started to say no. I had promised myself no new plants until I had given my garden a good think. So far, I was failing my promise,

"Okay, let me see it." It was horrible. I nearly laughed. It was all sticks and leaves faded to nearly yellow-green from want of acid and fertilizer.

"What can we do for Madame de Floris, Tony?"

"50 euros?"

"We can do better than that." I offered 35 and said that was tops. I would still have to buy planting soil, and I didn't even want it. They accepted. I got it for 30 euros when I picked it up a busy Sunday a week or two later, and I told Tony that I was expecting some stares at the cash registers.

"They might stare, but you're the one who's getting a great deal." He has confidence in this plant, and in me, but I was right about the stares. They should have taken it directly to my car and loaded it because it was not, I repeat not a good advertisement for the quality of their products.

I picked the spent blooms off between my fingertips with nonchalence, waiting for my turn to pay, and when I couldn't stand the pressure any longer, I finally quipped that I had gotten a price as "caissé" as the plant appeared. Several people nodded and said they certainly hoped so. God only knows why I felt obligated to reassure them of my absolute confidence in the ability of this rhododendron to recover, but just like Tony had with me, I pointed out to them how wonderfully it had bloomed, "The leaves will come back, once it has the energy to make leaves and flower." There was a general doubtful nodding all around, just as the store director walked by.

"Bonjour, Madame de Floris." They have learned to pronounce the "s" at the end. I am not sure how that happened, since I corrected with subtlety occasionally for quite some time without progress. I suppose that all it takes is the one person who hears and is less subtle behind the scenes.

"Bonjour! I'm taking one of your saddest plants off your hands, and books."

"If anyone can take care of it, you can, Madame." There.

I know. I know flattery when I hear it. I'm not that far gone. Yet.

It was still a far cry from the big, beautiful and healthy one we had delivered on May 14, 2005. That's Audouin in the wellies and rain slicker, lending a hand as it came in through the lower gate.

House guests

So, a week later, it will finally get into the soil I have bought for it. For anyone who has been following, you might know that it has been a little busy here, and gardening got shunted to a side track to wait while I carried everything from the smaller guest room and the petit salon up to the attic and then did the cleaning to get ready for house guests. I was evil when they arrived because they arrived precisely on time, which just is not done, and I was not ready. Not that I would have been ready had they arrived an hour late, but there they were, having said they would arrive at noon, waiting at the gate when Audouin and I drove up with the groceries at 11:54 AM. I was shockingly rude.

I inherited my grandmother's need for everything to be clean and perfect, without the accompanying DNA that makes that possible. A fundamentally flawed imperfect perfectionist.

I made an apology at the start of lunch and spent the day doing my very best to make up for it. Audouin made sure to tell me that I should have seen the looks on their faces when I pushed though the gate, loaded down with bags of groceries from the marketing -- oh, it's May 1 and every grocery store is closed and we have 10 for lunch. Thank heavens the butcher, the boulangerie, the truck that sets up a fruit and vegetable market and the Arab grocery store were open (France's equivalent of NYC's Korean grocery stores that bail you out by being open when no one else is) -- and on to the kitchen and the vacuum cleaner.

To make matters worse, the young man was allergic to cats (we have 3) and both young women afraid of dogs (we have 2). He turned out to be a pleasure and the girls coped with their fears, not that Baccarat and Rapide didn't show them exactly why there are baseless.

The two youngest children never came Wednesday evening for the rest of the week. His daughter agreed to come for the afternoon Thursday to see her older half-brother, but otherwise, they said they would not come, despite their father's calling several times. I know it is because of me, even if they complain about their father. Situation impossible. I am wondering who will call check and mate first; we take turns at check. It will have to be I.

There was a time just days ago when I would have been relieved by that. Then it is happening, possibly, and you realize that there is only one thing worse than them coming and making your life miserable: not coming and exposing you, to yourself.

So, after a week's wait while other things got done, it will finally get its comfortable, nourishing hole. I almost put it in on the other side of the barbecue from the one pictured above that I planted on the gazebo terrace 3 years ago now, but they really belong in a woods setting with large-leaved trees and shrubs, ferns and bulbs, lilies, not palm trees and yuccas. I will start it this afternoon, out by the dogwood, Cornus florida 'Rubra', I planted in a corner under a couple of trees last year, the one over the out of control laurel bush and another in equally appalling condition.

Ivy strangling trees is not romantic. It is arborcide.


9:18 PM

I can actually feel it wiggling its root tips and sighing in delight. Tomorrow, more acidic planting soil to finish up. It's area is a little small, but it will fill it and be happy.

Today, the first peony opened. A deep crimson one. There are zillions readying to follow it, some lighter pink, some deep pink.

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