Contents Contributors Resources Recommended Download Archive



In the Garden

As I write this it’s late spring in Virginia, and I could almost feel sorry for those living elsewhere if I weren’t so busy congratulating myself on having better judgment.

I say this not really to be spiteful, although that’s always a secret pleasure, but because over the years I have carved up and planted somewhere in the neighborhood of 93% of the available space on my smallish city lot, and I continue to maintain an overcrowded garden there in my “free” time. Others in thrall to similar projects will know what I’m talking about when I say that there is a tiny window of opportunity through which, once a year and for approximately one week, one may squint with gloating immodesty at one’s little doings out on the back forty. This is mine.

Although naturally there’s a good deal to complain about this year, I can see several reasons for satisfaction. It’s true that I lost about half of my hybrid tea roses for no apparent reason last winter (well, it might have had something to do with my electing to while away December weekends drinking Jack Daniel’s in an armchair rather than piling up mulch on the rose beds), but in a lucky twist I was able to go straight out and spend a fortune on brand new replacement bushes. Not being such a simpleton as to have anticipated, for example, that the recent introduction “Blueberry Hill” would really be anything like blue, I am pleased with the grayish-mauve it does turn right before all the petals fall, especially if you look at it around dusk when the light isn’t too strong. And I was beside myself to find an otherwise disagreeable and unaccountably posturing garden center carrying “Helen Traubel” -- introduced decades ago and not thought much of now, but a great favorite with me for its luminous peach-pink-gold coloring and heavy fragrance.

The hedge of old-fashioned roses along my eastern fence is at the height of its bloom and looking very much like a cheap picture postcard of itself. Although it’s not exactly the florid shrub wall I had originally envisioned--several of the bushes, notably “Henry Nevard” and “Hon. Lady Lindsay,” are nothing more than awkward bundles of tarted-up sticks, and let’s just say that mistakes were made with the pruning shears -- I’m pleased with it, more for its individual glories than the ensemble impact. Nothing throws shade on the strawberry-and-cream centifolia “Fantin Latour” during its annual three-week-long explosion, and the fawn-colored hybrid musk “Buff Beauty” has scaled the fence and bolted off almost to the top of a nearby dwarf cherry tree. Unfortunately a vigorous wild grape has got up in there as well, and the total effect is slightly unkempt, as though a trip to the barber might be in order.

An embattled clematis that had got off to a poor start due to the scientific curiosity of a large dog has now pulled itself together and made a semi-majestic showing on the birdhouse post. It is the deep crimson (not red) “Niobe.” I have found that if I station myself some yards away behind a group of skip laurels and make a telescope of my hands, I get quite a satisfactory view of “Niobe” over a foreground of purple-blossoming culinary sage. This telescope trick is really very gratifying. There is no need for the manual lens to be perfectly round if there are visual misfortunes to be excised, as of course there are in every garden not belonging to an out-and-out liar.

I notice that the solitary waterlily “Marliacea Carnea” in my fish pool -- in frankness, nothing but a PVC stock tank sunk in the horrible soil at the base of the terrace and piled round with river rocks -- has three good-looking blooms on it. These would look even better with fantails swimming among them, but I never bothered to restock the pond after last summer, when a deplorable cat from down the street relieved me of several specimens and a hail storm took care of the rest. I suppose I will have to replace them at some point so as to cut down on the mosquito population.

Talking of wildlife, another virtue of this spring so far has been the complete absence of what I have always felt might be snake eggs, leathery white globs that in previous years have had an unpleasant way of popping up in spadesful of soil when I was planting this or that. One time I chopped into one by accident -- sort of -- and didn’t like the looks of the interior. (Don’t trouble yourself to write in angrily concerning the helpfulness and general magnificence of snakes: I don’t care a bit. It’s my phobia and I’m not giving it up.) I have seen offered at nurseries and in unconvincing advertisements at the back of magazines cans of something claiming to be snake repellant. I know with a bleak certainty that I will buy one of these cans some day: I just hope no one I know is around at the time to see me do it.

Although in my youth I had nothing but contempt for annuals, I have come to see the error of my ways, mostly by looking at vast expanses of nothing over the course of one blistering summer after another. I now fill in the holes between the columbines and peonies and the rest of the great flowers of spring with heliotrope, alyssum, salvia farinacea, zinnias, and other garden foot soldiers. Though the transplants are pitifully nondescript and wan right now, they should start to look like something right around the time that the Japanese iris fold up their tents for the year: by late July or August I’ll be damned grateful for them.

No need to think about that just yet, though. For the time being I’m surveying my garden every chance I get and committing it to memory before the first blast of flamethrower-style heat hits. Because then, as the police on television are so fond of saying, the show’s over, folks.

-- Viriditas Digitalis


Contributors/The Roundtable: Little String Game


contents download subscribe archive