dimanche 27 février 2011

Starting again

A Japanese Maple in bud

It was three weeks ago that I took my camera out into the garden to find spring. It was there. Early, but there it was, in the first leaf shoots of the clematis (which reminds me that I have to go out and cut a bunch of them and the honeysuckle down to 30 cm from the ground or get no flowers again this year), the first buds on the grape vines I still haven't planted after nearly 6 years, on the Hortensia that barely survives summer after summer since I put it in 3 years ago down behind the pool and the maples I stuck in the same planting bed, waiting for inspiration to hit me, and the chives sending new blades up, the Bergenia cordifolias' bubble gum pink flowers opening, and the usual appearance of the first crocus and furls of tulip leaves on their masts.

It has been a clement winter since all the snow and cold of December. People returning from their annual ski weeks were grateful that there was still December snow on which to ski, and I have been longing for it to do its job here, which is to hide the ugliness of the garden out of season. I have had no such luck this year, and to make matters worse, I have had a perfectly well-behaved 6-month-old Labrador Retriever, who is a terror out of doors, racing flat-out around the top terrace and after anything that resembles an empty plastic nursery pot, a bedraggled unplanted clematis, or a stick or bit of wood of any description or origin. The yard is strewn with bits of clematis root, bark, and shredded plastic nursery pots in black, dark green, and terracotta.

Did I mention the piles of pooh?

Add the leaves that fell with the last snow that I never raked, the moss invading the grass, and the generally sodden appearance of everything from the nonstop drizzle, and it's an understatement to say that it looks like hell out there, but, today, the sun came out, and I got my camera again. Where I have crossed the top terrace, heading down to the bottom garden for wood for the wood stove or from the gate to the front door or the front door to the dryer and
fridge in the garage, my eyes averted, I went and looked again. I found things to make my heart soar, and things to make me very sad.

One is the weeping rose I tried to save. It is dead and gone. Rotted from the inside out. I don't know what hit it. For years, it was unstoppable in its pageant of magnificence, even giving us a second burst of bunches of tiny pink roses again in late summer, but last summer, it sent up a virtual bouquet of suckers. I would just like you to know that I have never killed a rose bush. Ever. I have looked and looked, and I haven't found quite what happened to its bark. It has to be a sort of blight, a mildew on the trunk itself. It will be hell to dig it up. The lavender plants at its base will have to come out, and then it will be a major undertaking to dig out its tap root to plant another in its place. I had to do this once years ago, when I first began working in the garden. The twin weeping rose over on the other side of the second terrace had died, and my first birthday gift to my husband was a new one, and all the work that went into renovating the lavender and planting it.

My camera battery died just as I noticed the new leaves uncurling themselves on the peony that lives under the spirea bush I never finished pruning. A little late, now that the leaves are coming out, but I am going to have to do it anyway, whatever the cost to the splendor of the spectacle of minuscule white flowers.

I thought about raking. I thought about pruning. I went inside and got my recently arrived copy of John and Emily Visher's How to Win as a Stepfamily and read to the end.

We have already lost. Time to count the fatalities and see what we can manage in the treaty. We refuse to surrender unconditionally.

And then I went and got the outdoor extension cords, my electric hedge trimmer, the long-handled pruning shears and the ladder and climbed up to make a go of pruning the sentinel yews at the top of the stair down into the garden.

My husband has been complaining about these for, oh, three or four or five years, since the last time I pruned them. They have doubled in height, and branches droop under their own weight. They have become a sorry sight. Fia heard the electric trimmer start up and decided indoors was a safer place as branches started to rain down on the bergenia, crocuses and the single delicate narcissus shoot.


The electric trimmer wasn't working very well, though, on the thickened vertical branches. I climbed back down the ladder and got the long-handled pruning shears. It was slow and heard-going, holding them out at shoulder height and closing them hard on 1.5 cm thick branches. I heard her whining at the door to come back out now that all was quiet.

A quarter hour went by, about half of one yew was about a meter shorter, and I was exhausted. What was this? I could do anything in the garden in years past, and here I was, wrecked after 15 minutes, in a cold sweat and feeling nauseous. I battled on. If my garden starts to get to me now, I might as well start looking for an apartment. 15 minutes later, it was nearly dark, and I cut the last upright branch. The whole thing tilted toward me, I could see that without getting down from my ladder. In other words, if you took a large sheet of stiff paper and lay it on the top of the pruned yew, the paper would lie at an angle, tilting toward the fish-pond-in-a-former-fountain. I'll fix that tomorrow, when I shape the shrubs.

I turned and attacked the second yew, just to make myself feel better. Tomorrow when I go back out, I'll have a head start, and when my husband gets home from a night delivering our newest niece, followed by a day and a night on duty and a day of normal work at the hospital, he will see one thing checked off my list of things to do in the garden that stretches to infinity and beyond that I have to fit into a demanding schedule of stepfamily reading, drawings to get the trades and my husband and I going to finish up work on the house (inside and out), and my newest responsibility as the volunteer president of an association that runs a daycare center that provides child care for women in job training programs so they can enter the workforce, provide for their families and enjoy the self-esteem that comes with work outside the home.

Oh? I didn't mention that? How forgetful of me.

One day I will remember how to actually work for money, in addition to greater self-esteem, out of sheer necessity.

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