AFTER 37 SUMMERS, the front yard is finally what one might call established—in great part thanks to having finally triumphed over the postal persons who for years trampled a path across the garden while talking (loudly) on their cell phones. Between the Japanese maple, forsythia, dense ground cover, shrubs, vines and a cleverly employed (if I do say so myself) elderly wrought-iron headboard—arched, elaborately curlicued and bordering the neighbor’s walk—the perimeter is fortified. It would take an act of outrageous aggression to battle through to the neighbor’s front walk. This could yet happen.
The scentless but constantly productive knock-out roses are doing what they’re supposed to be doing, filling several large planters with bright red blooms. When one (meaning me) has such a small patch of garden, maybe 12 by 20 feet, one chooses to admire the old-fashioned, sublimely scented but fleeting displays of the bourbon and damask roses in someone else’s garden.
When I was a child my mother trained a rambling red rose along the front fence. It bloomed only once, in June, but the scent was heady. She’d pick a little posy for me to take to my teacher, thorny stems wrapped in tin foil. I’d bury my nose in it on the school bus and can smell it still. The hope was, I suppose, that I’d show an uptick on the report card, though if this worked, it was not visible in the final tally. While a chronic reader, I was an abysmal student.
That was an aside.
Back to the front garden. The hydrangeas have doubled again in size—two purples, one white—and are loaded with buds. I’m hoping the Carolina jasmine, now in its second year, will sprawl above the ground cover of ivy and vinca. A blanket of perfume is the intent.
Our one new addition, a rhododendron named “Holden,” bloomed this week. I mentioned him in the last column, or the one before. He’s truly hideous. A ghastly shade of fluorescent pink that makes my teeth hurt. I hope he dies.
The peonies . . . well. This is not good. I moved them to the front of the garden, along the walk, where (the hope was) their sweet smell would greet passersby. They leafed out beautifully, and buds appeared, Huzzah! Then the buds shriveled into what look like peppercorns.
Several weeks ago I scattered seed in the mid-section. This is usually a waste of time and money. But I do it anyway. Poppies and cosmos, cleome and bishop’s flower (a non-invasive dupe for Queen Anne’s lace). The ground cover is far too dense (or I’m too lazy) to dig in the itty-bitty seeds. So I waited for a rainy day (not too difficult), tore open the packs with my teeth, poured the seeds into my hand, and flung them about, the thought being that the rain would drive the seeds into the ground. Now I wait.
If and when they come up (they never do, so there will probably be no issue), I may not even like the effect. In my imagination it will be one of those gorgeous cottage gardens, the ones with the hollyhocks in the back and masses of this and that organized in a deliberately disorganized way. Butterflies will flit, and so forth. Somehow I know that if anything comes up it will either be chaos or there’ll be just one spindly and listing cleome that, despite a valiant effort fighting toward the sun, will look pathetic. Anyway, I didn’t plant hollyhocks.
Meanwhile, at curbside, which is the domain of My Prince, the ground around the hundred-year-old elm had grown bald— who knows why. In an amazing feat of recall, I remembered writing last fall about clover, which I suggested he try.
To quote myself: “There are 300 clover species (genus trifolium). A member of the pea family, they come in shades of crimson and white. Being a legume, they convert nitrogen to fertilizer, practically eliminating the need for additional fertilization. They’re also drought-resistant, stay green in the heat and attract butterflies and bees and other good bugs that fight bad bugs.
This is an admirable collection of characteristics. Combined with grass, clover also makes a pretty ground cover. “Mix 5 to 10 percent clover seed with grass seed to create a thick stand,” says The Old Farmer’s Almanac.
The stuff has taken off beneath the tree. “If you have no capacity to grow anything, grow clover,” says my personal old farmer. “The seeds sprouted in three days.”
I might even find a four-leafer in the mix, which leads me to Baby’s garden, in Raleigh, North Carolina.
She gave me a tour the other day, clutching 5-month-old Wesley in the curve of one arm, her cell phone in the other. Here’s the dogwood, the crape myrtle, the roses, the lilac. The iris are coming up around the bird house. The gardenias are moved to the driveway. How lovely it all is.
How pathetic to be squinting at it all on a cell-phone screen.
If I find a four-leaf clover, I’ll wish for this nightmare to be over so on this, her first Mother’s Day, we could celebrate together. My beautiful Baby, her baby and me.
(Oh, her personal Prince and mine and grand-dog Tallula can come too, and we’ll have Popeyes and cake—and hugs).
LittleBird “Stephanie Gardens” has high hopes for every season in the garden.