Friday, July 3, 2009

June is "Bustin Out All Over!"

To quote from Oscar Hammerstein III in Carousel, June is indeed "Bustin Out All Over!" Those leaps of faith we started making in March, April and May, when the process of tilling the soil and planting seeds began, (our garden season officially begins on St. Pa tricks Day, March 17, when Progress # 9 peas are planted, for luck), have begun to pay off in the form of silken lettuces, succulent sweet peas, piquant radishes, and a myriad of green and red sprouts, that in the coming weeks will mature into delicious, nourishing vegetables.
In our neck of the woods, latitude 40.45 degrees N, longitude 70.35 degrees W, Junes garden growth was aided in no small part by the near record rainfall we received this month, 10.6 inches at last count. At times, it has felt more like Seattle than the Northeastern United States.
But, before we go on, there are two important items of news: First, the Milford (Pa.) Historical Society's planned garden tour was canceled, for want of enough participants. It is hoped that this tour will be rescheduled next year. More exciting news was the opening in New York of the High Line Park, the newest addition to the city's park system, on June 9th. I visited this elevated esplanade the day after it's opening and prepared a slideshow of it's reception by an eager public. To view it, please go to:
From the cold and snow of the winter, when, for the most part*, green growing things out of doors existed only as dreams in the minds eye, we have now passed the Summer Solstice, and those dreams have taken on corporeal substance, nutritional value and taste. (* I say "most part" because the boxwood border surrounding the potager continues to provide the "bones" of the garden, giving it shape and organization even in the winter when the beds are empty.)
This time of year, the garden has become our true outdoor "living room," where I enjoy having my coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon and cocktails in the evening.
If I may suggest, consider the garden a theater set, on which Nature enacts her ancient role as "Bounty," Provider of Sustenance, to the body and soul. As with any "set," this one must be dressed. That process too, began in March, when we brought our iron, vintage 1930's American table and chairs from their winter storage spot in the studio, back outside. Now, they sit in their usual spot, under a red maple tree, a part of the "borrowed" landscape, but at the time the tree had not yet begun to get it's leaves.
When the spinach went into the ground, so too did the benches leave their winter storage and take their places overlooking the western end of the potager. When it was certain that we had passed our last frost, the lemon tree and other potted tropical plants were brought from the basement "limonaia," adding height and the element of "intention" to the unfolding drama.
By Memorial Day, when the peony's (Festiva Maxima) erupted into bloom, the first round of planting was complete: arugula, beets, broccoli, carrots, Brussels sprouts, peas, Swiss chard, spinach, string beans, endive, garlic, tomatoes, sweet peppers (yellow, green and red) okra, (green and red) radishes and fennel. These plants are the real actors in our drama.
But, our set dressing isn't complete, yet. One Saturday, along came some elements, ostensibly for the garden but equally attractive as interior decoration, as desirable as they were unexpected, so ancient in their inspiration as to be ageless, that they immediately fell into that special category we refer to as "MHI's" - "Must Have Items!"
Am I speaking in riddles? Appropriately so, for the elements I am discussing are a matched pair of sphinxes, the traditional guardians of temples and other sacred places, that since at least the eighteenth century have been coveted as garden ornaments. The sight of them stopped me in my tracks as I wandered about a country flea market in a Saturday morning. I don't know what surprised me more, that they were there at all, or that none of the other hundreds of people who were walking past them were as entranced by them as I was. Initially,, I didn't know their cost. I only knew that there was no going home without them. Despite the cobwebs that clung to them, they shone like beacons, drawing me closer to them, obliterating awareness of any other vendors wares. They are composed of a creamy white shade of cast plaster, twenty-seven inches long, seventeen inches high and eight and one half inches wide. They have no markings to indicate a place of origin, manufacturer, or their age. They are beautifully modeled, with fine musculature in their leonine bodies and serene, inscrutable human faces. Large enough to have great "presence" yet small enough to be portable, they have seemed "at home" since the moment they arrived, whether outside in the garden, astride the central walk, or inside staring at each other from atop their bookcase perches. They lend an air of history/mystery wherever they are.
Every garden is a deeply personal reflection of it's creators imagination. That said, everyone enjoys having sources they can reference from time to time, even if only to confirm their natural inclinations. Here, then, are two books that I have stumbled on - one was a present, the other I picked up at a street fair - that I think any gardener, novice or expert, will find inspirational. For those interested in flower borders, A Garden Bluebook of Annuals and Biennials, by Henry Stuart Ortloff, (Doubleday, 1931) is a rich source of information about color, habit and combinations of flowers.
Those whose botanical interests run to the edible landscape, would do well to seek out Gardening for Good Eating, by Helen Morgenthau Fox, (MacMillan, 1943). This is a compendium of her thirty years of gerdening experience, including many vegetable varieties that are long since out of vogue. Either or both of these volumes will give a curious gardener lots to think about.
Happy gardening!

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