Tag Archives: garden

Overwintering Your Heart

24 Dec

IMG_1556All summer long, I watched my fuchsia plant react to sunlight and heat the way I do, shriveling up and running for the shade. Except the poor fuchsia couldn’t run. It doesn’t “have agency,” to put it the way I heard someone on the radio describe the imbuing of inanimate objects or ideas with motility.

There wasn’t much I could do for the fuchsia’s placement, given the limitations of my south-facing, 50-square-foot (extremely wobbly) deck. But because I was working at home this summer, I provided the fuchsia with agency. I went outside several times a day and picked up its planter and moved it to the rotating pockets of shade cast by the slotted railing throughout the day. It wasn’t enough, though, because it was just too hot for the poor thing. (Next year I will finally get a canvas sail shade!)

So my fuchsia went dormant. Summer dormant. And when the autumn came, I repotted it with a plan to bring it indoors for overwintering in my building’s basement. Everyone online says fuchsia’s have to be the basement, because the house is too warm to let the plant know it’s winter. But honestly, I hate the idea of putting the plant in this building’s particularly grim basement, so I put off the move until the first frost.

…Which never, never came in this El Niño winter. It’s 70 degrees Fahrenheit outside right now. So, since September the fuchsia has remained where I left it outside. I peeked at it every morning, just to see how it was doing, wondering how dormant versus dead it was. Then, a few weeks ago, right around the time my Christmas cactus was in full, vibrant bloom indoors, I noticed bright, new pink bulbs forming at the end of the fuchsia’s healthiest branch. It was loving life, getting ready to bloom again.

I know I should be horrified, I know I should feel bad that the plant is confused in our weird climate pattern. But I am so happy to see that it’s living, and it actually obviously just needed me to leave it alone for a while cooler temperatures so it would recuperate.

Meanwhile, the plants I brought in for the winter, my kitchen herbs, have died. I researched this move, too, but fearing a sudden drop in temperature during a two-week trip abroad that I was taking in November, I skipped the step of repotting outdoors and letting the plants adjust to the new confines outside before dragging them inside. Well, that was a mistake.

And this mistake was something I was lamenting this morning while I did yoga in the presence of a withering rosemary plant on the window sill. I’d moved it inside, then closer to the heater when the window got drafty and cold, then again closer to the window for more sunlight when it was warmer, trying to help it weather the ups and downs of temperature fluctuations, and yet there it was, regretfully having to make its exit because it preferred to roam free outdoors. The soil was wrong, the pot was wrong, the depth was wrong, the poor plant, which never really got established this summer outdoors, was now overwatered, over-coddled and overcome.

So I googled “saving a rosemary plant brought indoors for overwintering” and found a helpful website that basically told me I did it all wrong (but in a very polite fashion), and I frowned. To lose a plant life is not something that happens often in this apartment. I am the plant rescuer! I am a hero! How could I accept this defeat?

Then I saw a helpful and very relevant quote in a column next to the overwintering article:

A garden is always a series of losses set against a few triumphs, like life itself.
—May Sarton

And I exhaled. Okay. Yeahhh… even though a plant loss feels far more severe than discovering that a skirt no longer fits (even immobile, plants are alive, of course), I guess it’s something that happens, even to the best gardener.

I was sort of not really accepting this truth, promising myself and the universe that I’d have all the right overwintering materials and practices in place next year (this is only my second year of having a real garden), when some more fortuitous words leapt into my frame of vision.

It was my new mantra, one I’ve written about on this site previously, but not one I was ready to actually live out until my return from Spain and France a month ago:

“Stop leaving, and you will arrive. Stop searching, and you will see. Stop running away, and you will be found.” 
—Lao Tzu

I moved the plants around frantically, just like I move myself around frantically, but they only really flourished when I could let them rest in one place. Given the right conditions and a little time to take root, plants are pretty resilient.

Already, only one month into my new practice of not flying away from New York the minute I get antsy or a little to close to getting what I want at work, I can tell that I’m getting stronger, and new work ideas are arriving. If I want all my big career moves to happen, I have to stop moving. If I want to enjoy all that I have, I need to stop looking elsewhere. And if I want to be discovered as the whole person that I can be when I just sit still and let myself be whole, then I need to stop running to the airport. Constantly. Although I’ll definitely enjoy my Delta Gold status next year!

 

Morning Glory

6 Sep

photoI don’t have an air conditioner. On purpose. Leaving the windows open, strategically placed fans circulating air front to back across my long, floor-through brownstone apartment, keeps me connected to the real temperature of my surroundings. I know the weather as well as I know my neighbors’ business, and they know when it will rain and what time I picked up my paper off the stoop this morning. When I step outside, we wave to each other, caught up on everyone’s everything, and the heat and humidity are not a shock to my system.

I am among that most privileged class of New Yorker. I know my neighbors and I have access to outdoor space with a garden. I write to you, dear reader,  while perched on my wooden deck. Below, in my neighbors’ beautiful green expanse of flowers and trees, three cats twitch their ears and flick their tails at every passing insect and shimmer of sunlight. Next door, my neighbors are starting early with preparations for today’s barbecue. The fence between us and the rails of my deck are lined with winding morning glory vines that tangle and weave our spaces together.

The benefits of my connection to the outside world don’t only arise from this bucolic setting. On the other end of my apartment is a large picture window with a view of the bustling street and populated stoops of Crown Heights. It’s actually never quiet out there, and this is something I much appreciate. When very late one recent night there seemed to be a strange tension in the crowd of teenagers that makes the sidewalk their living room, I felt safe because my neighbors across the street were on the stoop, watching over the block. And all day long, I see each passing person, across demographics young and old, raise a hand in greeting to Charlie. “Chan, Charlie Chan is what they’ve  called me my whole life,” he says from his stoop. His chair is seldom empty.

My building is connected by ownership to three others, one adjoining and two across the street. No, the properties are not owned by some faceless condo developer. They’re owned by three brothers, natives of Brooklyn who make their own wine and live on the same block as their mother in Sunset Park. They bought these properties thirty years ago, when they were just finishing high school. They owned them through riots and now into the new wave of gentrification. We’re all hoping that this is the first neighborhood where communities merge rather than displace one another, and I have to say, so far it appears to be working.

The hipsterization of every part of life has brought good food to new restaurants that are populated by people from each sector of the neighborhood. The cool, new Berg’n beer joint and food emporium down the street from me is not full of apathetic indie rockers, but rather an array of construction workers and the people who have lived through each chapter of this neighborhood.

This fabric sustains us all. Even on a day when I choose to stay close to home, alone, and read my books, I speak with many whenever I run out to do an errand or weed my herb garden. I am never alone, and every breath I take is a privilege. One I am very well aware that my mother no longer enjoys. And so I collect each sensation and connect with every conversation in dedication to this loving and gentle woman, who was confined to the indoors most of her life, and loved me endlessly even while she seemed to abhor her place in the world. Her neighbors were her imagined enemies, and the television was sometimes her only window. But even she, when she had the opportunity, loved to sit on her deck or grill up some dinner with my brother.

I know full well that I am living an extension of the life she built for herself and for me. I am taking each happy element and adding to it a carefully tended sense of wellbeing that I share with every wave, smile, and wink with the people I meet each day. In meditation, it’s called compassion. In life, it might be called purpose.

Secret Garden

12 Feb

fair prospectI was running, running down and along each of the stepped paths in the deeply seated garden behind a mansion on the Isle of Islay. The sun was out (in Scotland!), the mansion was closed, and the place was entirely devoid of people, so I behaved like a mad person and shouted the opening stanzas of Prufrock as I ran. Each time I wound a corner and plopped feet into various squishinesses of mud and moss, I laughed. I’d just come down from running atop a sheep-dotted hill and I was still giddy. This entire garden was for me! I was on the beautiful, amazing Island where all my favorite single malt scotches are distilled. I’d worked so hard to earn this trip. I was there, I was gulping air. I was going to pack full and keep every second for all my life.

Just as I was slowing my steps to navigate around a swampily impossible patch, I looked up and saw a man standing in a greenhouse, eating a sandwich and looking at me like I might actually be from another planet. He was tall and ridiculously handsome. Maintaining my magnanimous momentum, I waved with both arms and shouted “Hello! Just visiting!” And then I took one step away from the scene and then another lurch back… and he and I cautiously approached one another.

“Are you having your lunch break?” I asked, as if I’d known this guy forever.

He was indeed having his lunch break.

I told him I was ridiculously excited to be in his beautiful garden, and I was on Islay for the weekend, and this was my dream trip, and I was running and shouting. In case he missed it.

There were jokes and banter aplenty. His name was Tom and he told me that everyone who lives on Islay has an interesting reason for being there.

“You had some time in prison?” I asked.

“Hah! I may have the face for it, but no, I was never in prison.”

The farm where he worked in Kent was unable to support the three families living there, so he was the one who courageously set out for a new life. “It would have been much easier to move to France, which was just across the channel, but I moved here, 690 miles away,” he laughed.

His garden, I kept saying with big, loud joy, was beautiful. He made free to share it with me. Pointing to a palm tree, he told me about the gulf stream and how the west coast of Scotland was strangely warm. Currents from South America, he said. No snow here ever. Just storms, wild storms. 

ribbon treeThen he pointed to another tree behind me. It was a New Zealand Ribbon Tree, one of only three in the U.K.

“Oh wow, so that’s a rare tree?”

“Well there are plenty of them in New Zealand, I would expect, but there are only three in the U.K. You should look at it more closely.” He went back to his shed and returned with the other half of his sandwich, chomping with big gardener bites but still looking quite dignified to match his genteel accent.

“Will you walk with me to look at it?”

“Sure.”

Then I did what I never do. I just asked. “Are you married, Tom?”

Breath caught in his throat and he held a pause before he said on an exhale, “I am.”

“Oh, that’s a shame, because I would move to Scotland.”

It was so breezy, so light. We were entranced in sunlight and blossoming snow drops and I didn’t scare him with my sudden devotion. It was just a wonderful exchange of all that matters. Work and life and beauty and poetry and talking to strangers and smiling a lot. Tom, you cultivate your garden and I’ll keep memories of it in my mind forever.

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