ANNIVERSARY Countdown (Count-Up?)

Today is Friday, March 7th, 2014. We were married 986 days ago, on June 25th, 2011.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Carding Mill, Blue Mouse Ears and Robobees

It has been a day of warring stories in my head. Most of the time I can’t get myself past the writer’s block. Today, there have been four different stories that are begging to be written, and the two that have been back-burnered because I can’t quite figure out how to complete them or whether I am ready to share them. Some months are like that –from writer’s block to hypergraphia in the blink of an eye. In any case, I am starting with the trivial because it is easy to get that out of the way, sort of like checking off the things on the to-do list that you can complete, and leaving the complex ones to roll over to another day.

So H was writing some weeks ago, about the names of paint color. I have an alternate: the names of flowers. As a novice gardener, I have gotten accustomed to hearing my friends refer to Astilbe and Phlox  and Sedum. I even occasionally try to speak the language, dropping a Ranunculus or Echinacea into the conversation, but today I flipped open a catalog from White Flower Farm as it adorned the top of my pile of mail, and I saw the names of roses: Julia Child, Sugar Moon, Eden Climber, Burgundy Iceberg. I can imagine the color of the Burgundy Iceberg and I presume it grows well in colder temperatures, but is the Julia Child long legged and likely to drop its petals on the ground? Is the Sugar Moon a cousin to the Green Cheese Moon? Those names are all trademarked. There are others that are in single quotation marks for reasons that are unclear: ‘Dublin Bay’, ‘New Dawn’, ‘The Fairy’ and ‘Twilight Zone’. Is  Dublin Bay the color of seaweed and salmon? Does Twilight Zone have several dark descending notes? There are also some that are registered: Double Knock Out and Pink Double Knock Out, and my personal favorite, Carding Mill.  Carding Mill?  
Rose Carding Mill®

 I have visions of unmarried Puritan girls stuck in the factories at loud machines for endless days, limping home at night to a dark and cold room where a single peach-colored blossom adorns the table beside the coal stove.  Oh yes, and there is one other flower named by someone with either an edgy lifestyle or a sense of humor…I hesitate to write it here…well, ok…”Golden Showers.” These just seem like something that a crew of somewhat stoned people are coming up with at Monday’s marketing meeting when everyone is still a little hung over. 

The names evoke a kind of garden pornography with which I am familiar but there is something different here from the catalogs of Johnny’s Selected Seeds or Fedco that has a no color, no frills, line-drawn catalog and seems designed to appeal to the Birkenstock crowd (like me). Johnny’s caters to commercial growers. The smallest snap pea seed pack has 250 seeds, or 1000 spinach seeds or 1000 lettuce seeds (that’s not a typo: 1000). And yes, those packets are at my right elbow awaiting the Mother’s Day planting sun (including “Goldies” that we discovered on a plate of pasta in Venice). Fedco has a subsidiary known as Moose Tubers where they are currently soliciting support on behalf of a farm that is growing SEVEN HUNDRED varieties of heirloom potatoes to keep the seed crop alive, now that the “Seed SaversExchange” has discontinued its support.  Bet you can’t name more than 5 of those 700!

But in either case, the uncautious reader can find herself with a hoop house for the tender annual starts, rime to keep the bugs away, and a life far from the computer desk, up to those elbows in manure. Johnny’s web site will seduce the unwary with a long handled wire weeder “just like the one that THE FOUNDER Eliot Coleman invented.”  

My friend Derrick just spent 300 hard earned dollars on heirloom organic seeds from a place in the Midwest, and will be growing striped tomatoes in red and green, or purple black ones, and two foot long squashes, and 800 pound pumpkins.

But THIS catalog, the one from White Flower Farm at my left elbow, takes the pornography to an entirely different level. There is something that just hints that the reader has help in the garden—maybe a paid gardener who does the hard work of planting and manuring the ivy covered stone wall enclosed English acreage, while she contemplates the crystal for just the right bud vase. The cover photo has a white house with a Palladian window, above four windows each with three over three panes, that tilt in to let the virtually scented herb garden waft through  (It is 23 degrees here, and the wood stove needs to be fed.) There are terra cotta urns, wood benches, a “swoe” that can be “comfortably pushed or pulled around plants while scuffling the surface of the soil” (no need to break a sweat), and a variety of “tuteurs.”  A tuteur? Is that something that you buy to prepare les petits sprouts for a place at the best nurseries? 

There is a single double spread of tomatoes from heirlooms to “teeny tinies”. There is a single double spread of tools. There is a single double spread of bulbs for Spring color, and a single double spread of the plant of the month club. There is a single double spread of pre-planned gardens that “take the guesswork out of garden design.” There are 16 photos on a single double spread of “Perennials you can count on,” 11 photos and one half page photo of Astilbes that are “rugged beauty for shade.” There are 18 photos of the “ever-popular daylily” on the single double spread of Hemerocallis. It is the “year of the Hosta”  (including “abiqua the drinking gourd,” ‘Blue ivory”, “cathedral windows”, and another personal favorite: “Blue mouse ears.” ) 

There are “show-stopping blooms of hydrangea” and “Little Mermaid” and “Sweet Summer Love” and “Alligator Tears” and “Cityline Rio” and “Guacamole.”  Truth be told, there is precious little to sustain a body, and even the tomatoes seem to be chosen for aesthetic value rather than for whether they will be good for canning or sauce.

Here in Vermont, where there are no Palladian windows, I have yet to really test the soil. I know it will be rocky. I know that the raised beds need new edges and the bird house needs a new foundation. We inherited herbs and a plethora of perennials, now complemented by the irises that Julio and Kathleen sent from Wisconsin as a house warming gift. But as I look out over the snow and send out emailed requests for borrowed snow shoes, it is hard to believe that Spring will come soon with its own urgency to plant and to weed, to fertilize and protect from the woodchuck that I already know lives beneath our garden shed. 

When it does, I will likely be supporting the beans on an old tripod my friend made of three strips of molding held together with some insulated phone wire; the tomatoes will be supported by cages that have rusted from years of use.  

Many years ago, I took a Sociology class in “Ethnomethodology” which studies the way we build rules of social discourse: what is the next auction bid after “ten dollars” or one hundred dollars? What do we say after someone says “Hi! How are you?”  What if instead of saying: “Fine, thanks, and you?”, we said “What business is it of yours?” These garden catalogs make me wonder what the rules of social discourse are when it comes to gardening. How do we know what plants are appropriate in a place, not just because the sun and soil will support them, but because they reflect us as members of our community – or not. I read somewhere about the beginnings of Arbor Day in the Midwest – founded in a desire to plant something that was not indigenous to the place it grew, something that would indicate the ability to control the land rather than living in synch with its natural inclinations to tall grass prairie.  A friend just returned from visiting other mutual friends in Hawaii where the garden is planted in a rainy climate, necessitating that the plants be protected from the rain by covers, which in turn necessitate that they be watered by hand.

What is it in the Carding Mill rose or the Blue mouse ears that speaks of our aspirations and our belonging? Why does it feel different to plant a variety of heirloom tomato or protect some potato? The Fedco people wrote about the potato savers “There is no long-term storage in a vault on an Arctic island for potatoes. Consider making a donation to Scatterseed (send a check to us or directly to Scatterseed) or donate your refund to help keep Will’s potatoes alive.”  There is something that appeals to me about keeping an arcane variety of potato alive – as we want to preserve the endangered polar bears or whales or some species of newt.  There is something that appeals to me about holding the vernacular intact. If we let these go, then we can also let go of the farmers who gather maple syrup in 5 gallon buckets instead of gravity lines to tanks that get pumped onto the back of a Ford pickup. Or worse, there are the robobees that have been designed to replace the real bees that are dying from colony collapse disorder.

I suppose I will be planting potatoes this year, and some sun gold tomatoes and a few Amish paste for sauce. I have been eating the last of our “put-up” applesauce with dinner each night, as though it will hasten the blossoming of the old apple tree on the land where I used to live. I think I will leave the Carding Mill to those who are more prepared to put cut flowers on the table rather than food drawn from the garden. Maybe it is a good thing that I have a few more weeks to dream; it is going to be a long hot summer on my knees in the dirt.

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