I am back in Virginia, at my parent's home - yes, the place of rocks and daffodils meandering along the edges of the oak forest. I managed this afternoon to coax my mother outdoors for a short walk - down to the road and back, and to her numerous garden beds.
Daffodils are everywhere, small clusters of green covered in buds. I'm envious of her grape hyacinths - they are not yet blooming, but she has a million or more of them - and I think they are one of my favorites. In my coastal South Carolina garden they bloom for a year or two and then fade out - I need to replant them every year if I want them to bloom.
But the hellebores! The hellebores are simply beautiful. While the deep purple ones are wonderful - I also love the lighter ones, with the violet speckles. In my garden, I have one hellebore which flowered the first year, and not again. We are right at the limit of their range, and I do believe that other varieties, other than the one I planted, might do a bit better. But perhaps I don't need the hellebores in South Carolina quite as much as the northern gardeners do - seeing their gorgeous colors on a windy first day in March is a welcomed site.
I've been daydreaming a bit about gardens today - not mine, or my mother's - but a different sort of garden that I'd like to turn my own into one day. My mother received Wayside Gardens 2008 Collector's Edition catalogue (and here) - and I've been looking through it, and I've found a few new plants that - as always - I find myself in desperate need of. (Those of you with gardens understand this kind of desperation). First, there is a book mentioned that I imagine would be a nice one, Ken Druse's The Collector's Garden -- described as a book that "invites readers into 28 private American gardens...and shows how gardeners can 'collect' plants for their pleasure, without sacrificing their devotion to the natural garden or abandoning good design." It's not a terribly new book - but perhaps newly out in paperback. It might have to go on the list - you know, that list of all of the books that I desperately need and that I'm sure will fit somewhere into the Airstream.
There's a 'one of everything' concept to collecting that I find appealing - and yes, I feel that way as I imagine our coral-associated microbial collection growing larger with each sampling trip. It shouldn't be surprising that someone who is fascinated by biological diversity by day (professionally) would have that carry over into their desired personal activities. There's a greed to wanting one of everything that bothers me, but oppositely - the desire to deeply know one Genus, such as the Camellia spp. (as an example that pops into my head, since camellias are blooming away in my own garden right now) is a reasonable desire, as good as any I'd say - and better yet - the desire to help conserve a particular genetic line is even better. But this is where I get tangled up: I want one of everything, and I want to know everything about each one. That's exhausting, if not downright nutty.
But it's how I garden. It's as if my garden is one giant laboratory - a place to wander, observe, take notes - and of course to enjoy. Preferably with something cold in hand, and on the rocks - or a glass of a Virginia cabernet.
But back to the Wayside catalogue. Of course I was intrigued by the Cornus florida 'Cherokee Sunset' - the variegations on the leaves look spectacular. But what really captured my attention were the ornamental grasses - for shade. Perhaps half of my acre garden is covered in shade - from six large live oaks - and I'm always looking for interesting plants that thrive in the shade. So I came across Hakonechloa sp. - a Genus I have had no experience with, that has two varieties that seem to be good for my zone (I'm tending toward plants these days that are happy up to a zone 9, although I am technically a zone 8b): Hakonechloa 'Albo Striata' and Hakonechloa macra 'Naomi'. Quite frankly, they both look dreamy.
As does the cover plant - Epimedium ogisui - a pricey little number that is rated for up to zone 9 and better yet, doesn't seem to mind dry shade. But the flowers! Described as floating 'above the foliage on wiry stems' - they might just be irresistible. (I would just need one, right?).
Oh, and there are others. The baptistas (of which I have seeds of several), the lupines, the violas, the toad lilies...
What is a plant obsessed person to do?
Isn't it funny, how you look at something, thinking 'that makes perfect sense, but I absolutely had not made the connection before' - that's how I felt today, looking at my parent's kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa), the one that has white, pointed flower petals. Of course the buds are pointed, unlike the buds of Cornus florida. That makes sense.
The large kitchen window in my parent's home is filled with flowers. Remnants of flowers from my mother's birthday a few weeks ago, flowers from the Smith and Hawken 'flower of the month' thing (that I quite frankly have been disappointed in and wouldn't recommend - the quality of the plants has been surprisingly low thus far, with our being only three months into a year of monthly flowers) - and flowers from friends who have stopped by. As my mother's health has declined over the past few weeks, so has their care, so I spent some time this afternoon as she slept, cutting back dead flowers, throwing out dead flowers - recombining flower that were still nice into different arrangements. The kitchen window is respectable and cheery once again, and when she woke from her nap she asked me if there had been new blooms opening up while she slept.
She is not consistently lucid right now. It is hard to know whether it is due to the pain medications, or the TIA, or the tiny lesion in her brain that is most likely cancer cells taking hold (lung cancer tends to metastasize to the brain) - or whether, what is most likely, that it is a combination of the above. One minute she will be coherent, telling a quite detailed story, and the next minute she will be saying something nonsensical, like she did at dinner last night, when she told me that she had flowers for lunch - pointing to a vase filled with daffodils that I had brought her from my South Carolina garden. I just nodded, thinking that I didn't mind if my mother had flowers for lunch - or even better, I didn't mind that she thought that she had eaten a vase of daffodils at the noon hour.
What I am noticing is something more difficult though - while I am accepting that her mind is drifting, my father does not seem to want to go to that place. Sometimes we lose people in our lives quickly - one moment they are there, and functioning - and then they are no more. Other times we lose them more slowly - as their lucid moments are gradually replaced with words that we no longer understand. I fear that we are beginning this process with my mother - and I am sure that the thought of that terrifies my father (as it should). All one can wish though is that the nonsensical thoughts that replace coherent ones are happy in my mother's mind - and quite frankly, I hope they are filled with flowers. That is not such a bad place to go to, and a world where one has flowers for lunch, well, how bad could that be?
Stanley is looking at me, obviously in need of a walk outdoors. It is just dark, and my mother ate more for dinner tonight than she has eaten in days - and my father is quietly working on paperwork. For now, I will wander the back woods with Stanley, until the thought of brown bears creep into my head, and I rush to head back to the lights of the house. Here, I trade snakes for bears.