By Stephanie Cavanaugh
‘THE WILLOWS . . . leap into the air with tremendous verve, and in five years reached thirty feet.”
Thirty feet in five years. That’s my kind of tree, said my greedy little brain in yet another misguided thought.
Mirabel Osler’s A Gentle Plea for Chaos may be the perfectly named book for me, as chaos is my preferred state of being, and the worst one for me to dwell upon. Her acres upon English acres with their streams and hillocks have nothing to do with the two poor little patches of earth, one fore, one aft, of our unimposing townhouse. So far, in my reading, she’s planted 20 trees, and that’s Chapter One. Such space she has, a gulping wonder for a magpie eye like mine.
If one tree doesn’t satisfy, the next will. And, oh! Isn’t that one pretty. I’ll take three.
Meanwhile, I find the only problem with plants and trees too big or too many for the petite garden is that they are too big or too many for the petite garden. But will I ever learn?
For example, it is no small matter to remove a 15-year-old Kwanzan cherry when it has grown (in an I told you so manner) to a scale where one can prune branches from a second-floor window.
I will say, it certainly makes a statement.
Wouldn’t virtual reality be a wonder here. A hologram of a cherry in full bloom. As the tree doesn’t really exist, the ground can be planted with all manner of sun lovers, roses tumbling about with iris, peonies, petunias. O! to grow a zinnia.
And wouldn’t it be grand to revisit that hologram in, say, January, when (if) snow piles up on the porch railings and the garage roof. An explosion of pink in the depth of winter white.
Meanwhile, the cherry, the real one, is the largest of our gardening misadventures. It was chosen for precisely what it has become, a massive screen between our garden and the townhouses that grew up in what was once a schoolyard parking lot behind our garage. Why, one could romp naked beneath it in midsummer and none but a neighboring gymnast could catch a glimpse, which I wouldn’t recommend, by the way.
Grow it certainly did. Each year the struggle remains to find anything that will flower beneath its mighty limbs.
Luckily, I’ve grown fond of shade, and enjoying the calm of various tones of green and those plants happy to flourish, or at least exist, in severely dappled shade. Ferns, hydrangeas, and the like. I’ve also grown to appreciate pot gardening, meaning plants grown in pots; there’s not enough sun for the other sort. These can be moved to chase the sunshine, sometimes several times a day if I’m of a mind to (usually not).
In a week or two I can clip some stems from the tree and force the blooms in a vase. Another few weeks and the tree itself will burst into double-ruffled pink flowers— unlike the comparatively prissy petals of the Yoshino cherries that surround the Tidal Basin,* looking like a wedding party with a motley assortment of guests, obese families in a shouting match of plaid shorts and shirts, so they can find one another. Sniff.
Ours are riotously fleshy, flashy flowers that will last a week or so, depending on how cool the air remains, and will then snow down upon the flower beds in a dense pink mulch punctuated by pink and purple tulips.
A storybook fantasy, so brief. So pleasurable.
Perhaps . . . it’s not a mistake.
*The National Park Service says peak bloom of the Yoshino cherries should be March 22 to 25, 2022. The annual Cherry Blossom Festival, which sometimes coincides with the blooming of the trees, is from March 20 to April 17. Check out the events here.
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