Sunday, February 12, 2023

Still Life w/Surprises

There are so many ways to read that title, eh?  "Still Life w/Surprises" merely as the title of a captured moment in art, an assembly of natural things that aren't moving?  Or do we have a "still life" photograph that also has elements that don't belong? Or is the photographer (i.e. ProfessorRoush) trying to say that life still has surprises? Today, it is all of the above.

Take for example the photograph above, a simple iPhone capture last weekend of my back garden bed ringing the house.  In among the debris, the observer can pick out the dried remains of Morning Glory vines, the multiple seed pod remnants from a Baptisia that grows nearby, the rotting pieces of last year's hardwood bulk mulch, and some dried daylily leaves.   All the leftovers of last year's growth desiccated and done, beyond regrowth, it's stored sugars and starches and energy transferred back into root or invested in seed.  And yet, if one looks closely enough, among the shades of brown, gray, black and tan is the green of next year's daffodils, the first sprouts pushing up from the soil in the first week of February, 2023.   Life's promise to go on.

Or, beside this paragraph, the reigning clump of Calamagrostis 'Eldorado', the nicest green and gold form of Feather Reed Grass I can grow.  In a four season climate, every season has its place and value, whether it is the promise of rain with the coming of spring or the sunshine of high summer to provide the energy for food production.   Even winter, at least to a gardener, has value as it exposes the bones of a garden, the structure of a branch or a shrub, yes, but also the interlopers of the garden, vigorous natives and non-natives hell-bent on taking over the space and serenity.   Here, it's the short Eastern Red Cedar, Juniperus virginiana, that grew stealthily last season in front of the grass and right before my eyes, but is de-camouflaged and exposed by the cruel fingers of winter.  I've marked it now, marked it for destruction when I make a first secateur pass during Spring cleanup.

The most exciting display of hidden surprises in my garden, however, is seen in the photograph at the left, a full view of my almost-Jelena Witch Hazel backed up by the massive leavings of a white Crepe Myrtle.  Can you look closely and find it, the surprise jewel among the worn branches?  Look very carefully, look at the base of the Witch Hazel for the surprise here.  Look for red among the brown in the picture at the right and the one below.

Somewhere, somehow, a volunteer rose has sprung up near the Witch Hazel, standing over 7 feet tall and like no other rose in my garden.   This one has the appearance of a short climber at present, nearly thornless, and with delightful red stems.  In my garden, only a few roses, mostly Canadians, have red thorns in winter, foremost among those my multiple bushes of 'Therese Bugnet' but Trashy Therese, who is admittedly prone to sucker, is nowhere near this bed and would have many more thorns.  The canes of Griffith Buck rose 'Iobelle' resemble these in color at the moment, but 'Iobelle' is 40 feet away, only reaches 3 feet tall, and never suckers. 

So, I think I have a seed-derived new rose, planted here by birds as a gift to the gardener, and the excitement is rising in my deep rosarian soul.  Will it survive the remainder of winter, proving its hardiness in this harsh dry and cold climate.  Will it flower this season, white or pink, single or double?   Will it continue to grow, a new climbing rose of my very own?  Will the canes turn red again next season and will it stay nearly thornless or become more thorn-covered as it ages?

These and other questions are why I garden, for the calm of a good life lived with the soil, for the gifts of nature that grow my soul, and for all the surprises out there, in the garden, that keep life interesting.


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