Monday, May 4, 2009

"... lo que la primavera hace con los cerezos."

As with cooking, I came late to gardening. It wasn't until Skunk and I bought our crumbling old farmhouse in the Brabant Walloon countryside that I first experienced the myriad joys and aches of gardening. Had I known what back-breaking work it would entail I might never have taken it up. But I did. And I'm hooked.

I want to say something about gardening. Keeping a few houseplants or a few pots of herbs on a window sill does not make one a gardener. Walking around in a sun hat while sipping a large G&T and ordering a gardener around to do one's bidding is definitely not gardening either, although my fear and loathing of slugs and snails, the pain shooting up my backside and my despair at the disgraceful state of my hands make me wish I could indulge in such moneyed pastimes. (Gardening for pussies is what I call that, so let's not go there.) Having neither the fortune nor the forbearance to deal with hired help, the only way I know how to garden is to get down and dirty myself. Picture me thus: I'm in a manky old sweatshirt and denim salopette, up to my eyebrows in compost, arms criss-crossed in scratches and nettle rash; grass stains on my knees. Twenty-year-old leather gloves held together by stitching and equally ancient wellies caked in mud and cracked at the seams. Twigs and spider webs in my hair complete the Mrs Batty mien. Let's face it, Country Living will never ask me to model for them.

My gardening year began with the appearance of brave little snowdrops (above) in late winter, an indication that spring was inexorably inching its way toward us. With temperatures in our area falling to a record minus 25 Celsius (or minus 13 Fahrenheit) this winter, we feared that the bitterly cold weather might kill off most of our plants. We lost quite a lot of them, including some real treasures. Many that didn't perish from the cold were heavily damaged and will take several seasons to recover. Some plants that didn't mind the cold at all were the Helleborus niger, also known as the Christmas rose (below). They put in an appearance in late winter and are just going to seed as I write.

Spirits soar when the first of our cherry trees bursts into blossom. This is when I know that winter has finally turned the corner and longer, warmer days lie ahead. Whenever I look at cherry trees in springtime, the part of my brain where gratitude lives does a little Pavlovian pirouette and performs a mental recitation of Pablo Neruda's immortal line, "Quiero hacer contigo lo que la primavera hace con los cerezos" (I want to do with you what spring does with cherry trees). Apple trees are in bloom now too. Spring, pregnant with scent and the promise of flowers and summer, is without a doubt my favorite season in the gardening year - at least, for as long as I can ignore those returning gastropods of doom.

Our property abuts a neighbor's abandoned, overgrown lot on one side and a cow pasture on the other. While I love not having next door neighbors because I can play music as loudly as I want without anyone but Legs and Noodle complaining, it does create a lot of extra work because the weeds from both sides migrate to ours. It does get very grrr-making especially in the summer when we seem to spend all of our time at weed control. Weeds always win. Of course.

This is the woodland, oh okay, the wild part of our garden with a happy Clematis montana growing out of a beautiful antique porcelain toilet (to protect the roots) that I inherited from a friend who found it abandoned in a potato field.

The enormous billy goat who lives across the street has been casting lascivious glances at my gorgeous deep pink aquilegias. If that wretched beast ever escapes and wreaks havoc on my plants I promise you he will end up as goat curry. A recipe for Jamaican goat curry, all our dub and reggae CDs and my scariest cleaver are already on stand-by.

One of my favorite climbers is the Wisteria. This W. floribunda 'Macrobotrys' in the back garden has magnificent racemes reaching over 3 feet long with deeply scented pea-like purple flowers. I've been dropping hints to Skunk to build a strong tall structure for it to climb. One certainty of gardening is that as we cross off one thing on our endless horticultural To-Do list, two more come to take its place.

The wisteria sinensis in our small front garden (below) is so abundant it's become quite the village showgirl. A Clematis montana 'Reubens' grows through it and when it's at its peak we often see cars screeching to a halt in front of our house. Windows roll down and people gawk and take pictures with mobile phone cameras. I've had to stop gardening in pajamas in the morning since this started to happen. I mean, what if I end up in the papers in my pajamas? Unfortunately, this wisteria took a terrible wallop this winter and we had to cut it back hard, leaving almost no flowers for this year. It'll grow back eventually, but for now I'm cheating and posting a photo of what it looked like last year.

Because I ache so much from gardening until almost 9 p.m. yesterday, I declared today a rest day. Never did get the hang of moderation, and anyway what would be the point? Spring doesn't have a pause button. As I stare at my fingernails in dismay, daydream about a massage I will not get and check the weather forecast for tomorrow, I find a certain amount of comfort and a great deal of truth in this Chinese proverb:

If you want to be happy for a day, drink.
If you want to be happy for a year, marry.

If you want to be happy for a lifetime, plant a garden.


Twenty Four At Heart said...

Enjoy your gardening! Honestly gardening and photography are the two things I miss most since my car accident. Oh how I loved to garden! Sigh ... no more digging for me.

Marianne said...

Wow! My dear, YOU have a garden! And, I also have a clematis montana rubens, which I loved. So tickled to learn that YOURS is growing out of an antique toilet -- !

Megatonlove said...

Thank you girls!

Gardening is probably one of the reasons I haven't killed anyone yet. And doing it without a budget has forced me to be creative with recycled materials. The antique toilet was about to be thrown out because it had a hairline crack on one side. I saw it and thought it would be perfect for keeping the clematis base in shade. I'll take a bigger picture of it and post it one day.

Naturelady said...

Great post!!!
Been too busy with spring here to do much posting lately- we've just had everything turn green this past week (Winter siluettes last week, and now it's green and the big snow mosquitoes are out!)

You're a wonderful writer -- I love your descriptions -- we have so much in common... KEEP writing & gardening...

Anonymous said...

What a gorgeous garden!!!! I'm so impressed. Keep posting!


Loney Kitchen said...

Wow, Meg, your garden is worth all the aches. Ka tahom. More photos please :-)