In the Garden

If you’re a gardener yourself -- and assuming you don’t live in some tiresomely favorable climate -- you’ve probably noticed one significant advantage that winter has over all other seasons: you don’t actually have to do anything much. Well, of course there are things you could be doing, like trimming up the unlovely hosta carcasses puddling so mucilaginously on the ground; or trundling around miserably with a wheelbarrow full of semi-frozen mulch with the objective of tucking everything in for the storied long winter’s nap. Are you really going to do those things, though? I don’t think so. I know I’m not.

What I will be doing is sketching out various additions and alterations to the garden that can be accomplished with only a modicum of effort -- say a couple hundred man-hours or so -- at some time safely in the future. I have any number of these optimistic little drawings on hand as I write this. In fact I rather wish I had saved all those I made during the previous twenty-odd winters so that I might treat myself to a nostalgic slide-show of my own idiocy.

Having reluctantly bid adieu to the idea of the miniature working volcano and the simple little plan to recreate "Les Demoiselles d’Avignon" in crocuses in the front yard, I now content myself with envisioning how a bit of extra latticing might be nailed to either side of the front porch and a bush of the old red hybrid tea rose "Climbing Etoile de Hollande" planted next to each panel. I would really rather have the magnificent rambler "Ghislaine de Feligonde," yet I know, do I not? that it reaches a height less appropriate to doorway embellishment than to the launching stage for the next Mars probe. Take note, children: This is maturity.

Somewhat more ambitiously, I am thinking that my current lily pool -- which, as I have admitted before, is nothing but a sunken PVC stock tank handsomely framed by some nice river rocks -- has come to seem inadequate and maybe even puny. With time on my well-scrubbed hands I have sketched out a remedy: a second and much larger pool carved out slightly below the first on the slope running away from my terrace.

I envision creating a little spillway between the two and installing a pump to keep the water circulating at a moderate pace. Some years ago I was given a very handsome green marble frog discreetly rigged up to be a fountain and currently not up to much other than sitting in the middle of a birdbath. Implementation of the Revised Water Feature Plan would enable this underemployed creature at last to fulfill its manifest destiny. I would add several pots or tubs of papyrus and Japanese iris in the lower pool, and would not be surprised if a giant lotus were to find its way into this superior arrangement as well.

(My enthusiasm for the plan is only slightly dimmed by memories of the dark hours I spent hacking spasmodically away at the boulder-infested hillside in order to make a spot for the original pool. If I am ever assigned to the rock pile at San Quentin I will be prepared for the experience.)

Since most gardening plans formulated during the winter months are never going to see the light of day anyway, one might as well take advantage of the fact, pull out all the stops, and indulge in a little Versailles-think. Sometimes I have considered whether I might not just slip a few espaliered trees into the general landscape plan -- in fact, what the hell; why not just fence off the whole place in double-cordoned pears! I am not ashamed to admit that I have thought of topiary as well: topiary, always so appropriate in front of a 1940s bungalow approximately the size of a Quonset hut. I wouldn’t waste my time on any yawn-inducing corkscrew and animal forms, either, but would go straight to the heart of the matter and find out for myself whether living boxwood might be clipped into the shape of a skull and crossbones, or perhaps just a simple series of question marks. It certainly looks good on paper.

It is often recommended by imperious gardening authorities that those planning new flower beds or other drastic reconfigurations of the local terrain first take a length or two of hose and mark out the the approximate size and shape of the target area. I might even do this myself if it were not for the fact that I neglected to lug my hoses down to the toolshed this past autumn and now they are frozen in reptilian-looking piles at each corner of the house. You could just as well do this marking-off business with some rope or string, though, if you had any: I have used end-to-end dog leashes a time or two myself.

In a way this is a perfect wintertime gardening activity. By the time you have plunged out into the back yard -- inappropriately clothed and possibly in the post-working-hours darkness -- and marked off the area to be excavated, it has dawned on you with some force that it’s damned cold out there and nothing would be more agreeable than a hot bath. By a striking coincidence a comfortable house -- yours -- happens to be right there waiting for you, and if you don’t soak too long you may be able to leap into bed just in time to catch Martha Stewart gardening on television, and laugh yourself sick.


See also Ann Beattie’s Letter from Key West


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