Thursday, January 15, 2009

a love affair

New Rochelle, NY circa 2000. Our house.

I fell most deeply in love with plants the first full year I spent in the Northeast, living in a little duplex just up the street from the YMCA, where I taught swimming and dance, in New Rochelle, NY. We had the tiniest little stone front porch with iron trellises, a row of boxwood hedges, and a little patch of dirt, fronted by a small stretch of white post and rail fencing. Our landlord's son, Russell, and his family lived next door. Russell had been in the nursery business and the backyard garden that I got to look out on from our kitchen window was nothing short of spectacular. The hollyhocks were seven feet tall and the birds all visited the birdbath under his enormous tulip tree. Behind the garden he had trellised apples along the fenceline. Tall, gorgeous phlox grew in abundance. Being able to look out on that garden, without having to care for it, was an enormous treat.

And quickly my little front patch grew by means of containers and baskets and climbers. I loved that tiny garden as much as any I have ever had. It was completely disorderly, haphazard, the result of a series of obsessions, unsupervised visits to the nursery, and nights spent reading gardening catalogs. After my front yard garden began to explode, Russell studiously placed out on his front porch three heliotrope, three red begonias, and mandevilla growing up the posts. It was gorgeous. I think he was quietly trying to teach me something. I still haven't learned.

I guess the truth is that I am not a gardener really, or a landscaper, but just a person who loves plants. I like to watch how they grow and change. I love to crush the leaves to see how they smell and sprinkle the seeds out into my palm to see what they look like. That's what gets me excited. The details and peculiarities of the living.

My littlest and I were heavily bundled and walking around the Home Depot this morning, in search of persimmons. Texans think we are crazy. But this is a great time to plant dormant fruit trees here. The best time! It brought me back to freezing days in the Northeast, when I was particularly in love with african voilets and scented geraniums. I would haunt the local nurseries on Rte 1 in search of varieties I did not yet have sitting on my windowsills. There is something about walking into a warm greenhouse on a freezing day that is just wonderful. Below I'll post a shot of some of Grandma G's african violets, geraniums, impatiens, christmas cactus, and begonias, which bloom like damsels in her south facing window, even on the coldest of days. What winter pleasures do you enjoy?

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