Kage Baker loved gardening, as I have often observed. Not just strolling in gardens – she enjoyed making, tending, planning, maintaining them. Her skills and interests were manifold and various: from fragile herbs grown from seed on the kitchen windowsill all winter, to the unmortared stone walls she built with her own hands.
She planted bulbs and deliberately forgot where, so she could be happily surprised in Spring. The yearly selection and arrangement of bright-blooming annuals was a lengthy and detailed ritual – Iceland poppies for grace, and California poppies for the risk and drama: because California poppies will eat your yard unless strictly constrained. Oxalis (also known as wood sorrel) for impossibly neon-glowing flowers. Primroses because they look like exquisitely painted cookies, snapdragons to play with, hollyhocks to tower, sweet peas to drape, thyme to creep along the ground. Everything, as much as possible, for bees and butterflies.
What I like is sitting in gardens. I used to be a good hedger and ditcher, too, although now everyone in the family refuses to let me dig or trim lest organs fall off me … but I get my share in, buying things and advising on planting, and yanking dangerous volunteer plants out before they can eat the border beds. I scored two lantanas yestreday, evicting the little buggers before they could get a toehold – those things will eat not just the garden, but the house!
Kimberly is also an enthusiastic and skilled gardener – she likes company and encouragement, and it’s always nice to have someone to brainstorm with about where to put the garden alligator (he’s ceramic, and appears to be swimming through the mulch). This year, her plans for the front garden have finally reached an unparallelled peak of triumph, and she is making a heaven out there (with modest help from me). She picks plants and fence pieces; I buy them, and Mike digs holes and hammers in ironmongery. Our concerted efforts have made of the front garden – an arid wasteland a month ago – the perfumed pleasaunce that it currently is. And will remain.
Replacing the lawn with redwood mulch and then jewelling it with hardy native plants has proved a delightful victory. The old existing plants all seem to revel in the new airy environment, and are rewarding us with flowers already. The camellia is alive with creamy golden-hearted blossoms; the old rosemary is more blue flower than perfumed leaf. All the roses have buds – except my new Wenlock, which has apparently not survived shipping. Woe and alas, but it happens. David Austen will send me another; a Wenlock in the garden is good luck. The Cecile Brunner and the Gertrude Jeckyll, pink climbing roses both, have taken to transplant quite well, and we can look forward to increased thorny security on the front fence as well as world-class scent.
A Chinese Pistache tree is going in, to provide my East Coast brother-in-law with changing leaves in the autumn – while not native, it is drought resistant. And then we can begin whittling down the damned mulberry, which is threatening the plumbing with its ghastly alien orange roots. The squirrel feeder can be moved to the pistache; squirrels are pretty flexible, we have discovered. They are burying nuts in the mulch as energetically as they did in the grass, and are adapting to the changes with squirrely enthusiasm. In fact, yestreday one of them made off with Kimberly’s solar-powered Monarch butterfly chimes and attempted to eat the plastic Monarch, before abandoning it in the rose bed. We hung it back up, laughing hysterically and embarrassing the squirrels …
One thing Kage taught me was that a garden can be designed to require a week or two of annual hard labour, and almost nothing else. Plant perennials and forget about them ; plant annuals at regular intervals and save worry . Prune and feed the roses, and then sit back and enjoy. Water things by hand and deliberation, saving water and guaranteeing a constant source, and let the plants run wild. Sit on the porch between times and breath the air of Paradise.
I have recently come to the awareness that I am another of Kage’s gardens. I’ve nearly gone fallow, this last year – it was a touch one, and I have almost failed of my promise once or twice or seventy times … but I feel a resurgence of hope and determination. Maybe Kage’s gardens were also surprised to see what bloomed in them after a hard winter; I think I can feel a tenuous return to deep flooding life, and am feeling a hesitant enthusiasm. Like, maybe things will get wild and crazy. Like, maybe enormous heaps of blossoms will appear. Like, more life has stubbornly survived in old grey wood than I have dared to imagine.
Time will tell. You can’t really stop it from doing that.