There's a rumor going around at the moment that it's spring now. It must be a rumor as I am not seeing any signs of a change of seasons. Maybe something strange is going on and the hemispheres have gone wonky and swapped weather patterns, because it is decidedly fall-like here. Okay, maybe not exactly fall-like but winter is hanging all for all it's worth. It is not going to depart quietly but is going to go out kicking and screaming. Even our nice days, like yesterday, were accompanied by fierce winds (some gust up to 60 mph), which nearly blew me away on my walk home. So if I can't experience spring (spring as we imagine it to be anyway), I can at least read about it, right?
March is almost over so it is time to pull out Anna Pavord's The Curious Gardener: A Year in the Garden and dream about warmer, sunnier days. I'm really enjoying this book. It's pleasantly light and chatty, but neither to complicated to follow for someone like myself who only reads about gardening, or too simplistic for those readers who are serious gardeners either. Each chapter is a mixture of practical tasks and gardening advice, bits of information and gardening lore and even anecdotes that seem initially peripheral at best to gardening, but Pavord always manages to return full circle to the theme at hand. The topics run the gamut, this month for example she starts out with a piece called "Spring is in the Air" (if only), which makes even me want to dig my fingers in the earth and moves on to the Costa Rican railway and even a bit on parenting. Parenting? More about that one later.
Each little section segues into the next and this is a perfect book to dip into over the course of the month, but I was so inspired by the idea of nature and spring that I read the chapter in one sitting. I have had little success when it comes to growing any sort of garden--flower or vegetable, and maybe it is just persistence that I need. That and reading about how to create and care for a garden and lots of hands on work. She reminds me why people love to garden.
"The real point of a garden is to increase the value of our lives. It gives us the best chance we have of fitting ourselves back into a world that cities make us forget. A garden locks you into the slow inevitable rolling out of the seasons, cycles of growth and decay, the lengthening of days and shortening of shadows."
Yes, please. Bring on those lengthening of days. It seems as though there is something very ruminative about working in a garden. And I like the sound of this--another way to de-stress!
"Your mind goes into delicious limbo when you are doing jobs such as this. They are undemanding, but in terms of improving the general look of things, very rewarding."
It's pleasing to think of these outdoor activities. I won't go into detail about all the topics she touches on, but I do want to share a few more highlights. And while I do feel inspired when reading to contemplate making some sort of attempt at a very small-scale garden, I have a feeling I won't manage to find the energy to do more than plant a flower box or two for the porch. I suffer from lawn guilt, however. I hadn't thought much about lawns in regards to gardens (which now sounds very strange) but lawn care takes up lots of time and effort it seems. It's no joke when she notes "badly kept grass is a moral slur." She feels that, too? Maybe I should strive for a "Freedom Lawn" over an "Industrial Lawn", too. In thinking of the latter:
"The authors [of an American thesis] argue for a less fascist approach to the garden lawn. 'Properly' maintained, that is, maintained according to the instructions issued by manufacturers of fertilisers, weedkillers, moss killers, lawn sand, lawn aerators and the like, a lawn is a monoculture. The best-kept lawns are those with the least diversity of plants; several million blades of fescue living in a botanical ghetto, untroubled by interlopers such as daisy or celandine."
I hadn't thought of it that way. And I certainly had never considered that lawns are actually the largest 'crop' that we produce here in the US. According to Pavord lawns cover 20 million acres of land here. And while many of us bemoan the state of our environment, we don't think of what we do to green up our grass and keep the weeds and pests at bay.
"The National Academy of Science in the States discovered that homeowners use up to ten times more chemical pesticides an acre than do farmers."
Yikes, that is quite eye opening. I have the same high expectations for my lawn--that it be perfect and unblemished. I might occasionally fertilize but I am not very good about doctoring things up to get rid of crab grass and dandelions and all the other 'nasty weeds' that are so fond of taking over my yard come mid-summer when the heat is at its most vengeful. I wish I could say it was a thoughtfulness on my part for the environment, but mostly it is laziness. I guess there is an upside to being lazy and will call my lawn a Freedom Lawn in the future--which means--"You mow, but not too close. You leave clippings to feed the lawn. You tolerate interlopers, as long as they don't get too bossy."
Oh, and the parenting thing? That's in reference to propagating plants--taking cuttings from one and growing a new one. She goes into the how-tos in some detail (but not too, too much). I suspect I won't be getting into anything like that, but you can still learn from her experience. I love that I always learn some little bit of fascinating information from each and ever chapter.
"The point of cuttings is that each one will grow into a perfect replica of its parent--if that is what you want. Nurserymen depend on this sameness. But each seed in a seed pod may turn out to be a subtle variation of the parent, the progeny sometimes skipping back, as children do, to pick up a trait that has been suppressed for several generations."
Pavord notes that the variation is a safety device--your basic survival of the fittest. But for an intrepid gardener it is often these oddities, the sickly plants, the mutations, that are the most appealing. They are rare and therefore more prized than the fittest.
The garden is just a world unto its own, isn't it. So much to see and think about. I need to slow down and look closer.
In a related note I am hoping to visit our local Lauritzen Gardens soon. I might even become a member. I am planning to attend a lecture next week (if I can still make reservations) by author Andrea Wulf who has written Founding Gardens: The Revolutionary Generation, Nature and the Shaping of the American Nation. I had been eyeing this book earlier so am excited to see the author will be here to give a talk. In the fall Lauritzen Gardens puts on an antique show and fundraiser and the Right Honorable Countess of Carnarvon is going to be one of the speakers. She is the current countess of Highclere Castle of Downton Abbey fame. How I would love to hear her speak, but tickets might be a little too rich for my pocket book.