The Poetry of Spring

DSC_0047If you have never read any Dorothy Parker, may I strongly suggest you do so? Not only her astonishing poems (and I say “astonishing” because so many of them appear merely clever and turn out to be so much more than clever); not only her short stories, any one of which you may have encountered in a high school anthology.

No, find yourself a complete edition of Ms. Parker and read the pieces she wrote sitting in as theater critic for The New Yorker when Robert Benchley went off for a while. In her theater reviews, she gave full-throated voice to the sharp, intelligent, no-nonsense observer of art she was. And hilarious to boot.

Today I want to be Dorothy Parker but without the alcoholism, suicide attempts, nicotine addiction, sad marriages, and dog poop all over the house. That may not leave much, but all I really want is to be that edgy, scrupulous observer who calls “hooey!” when she sees it and still manages to stand back and gasp in stunned amazement when what’s being observed is truly wonderful.

Spring is arriving. I would like to be declaring It’s arrived, but early morning brought us a sharp drop in temperature and a fiercely windy rainstorm. It’s supposed to go down to 40 degrees tonight, and I’m regretting that I didn’t make pesto over the weekend. Maybe there’ll be time after work to harvest all the basil I have so far and toss it in the food processor with the other necessaries – it certainly won’t look very good after a night of 40 degrees.

So as I say, spring is arriving. It takes all the restraint I possess not to wax poetic, but we probably don’t need too many more metaphors for new beginnings, fertility, promise, and all that. I think the best I can do is offer you some pictures of what’s going on in the yard.

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The Mexican primroses (Oenothera speciosa) are a waving sea of pink this time of year, prominent in three of the sidewalk beds. Some people complain of its takeover tendencies, but really – how difficult is it to pull tender shoots out of the ground if you’ve a mind to? Me, I love the early color; I love the variations, as with this near-white, pink-veined example; and I love to watch swallowtail caterpillars fatten themselves on the stems and leaves that look, quite frankly, delicious.

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One by one poppies emerge, first this deep red number at the end of the driveway. I have no memory of planting a poppy there, and have decided to believe that someone dropped a butter-yellow star-shaped candy in the flowerbed under the Texas mountain laurel and the white frill and papery petals couldn’t help but follow.

It’s a flower that always puts me in mind of a tiny cottage in Maine where we lived for a summer long ago. The place where they grew was actually referred to as “the dooryard” in that part of New England, and it took no effort at all to rewrite Whitman. I don’t think he’d mind When poppies last in the dooryard bloomed, do you?

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In my heart of hearts, I don’t think a fence has any business existing without a botanical cape of some kind. It’s a controversial opinion – unruly, you could say – because foliage attracts and conceals pests and critters. I once had a horror of a next-door neighbor who ranted to me that the trumpet vine on our back fence caused ants to appear in her kitchen. But now we have a splendid one that covers the fence behind the air conditioner. I keep hoping it will get tall enough to completely conceal the illegal garden tool shed on the other side. We’re close.

The crossvine is a member of the Trumpet-Creeper Family (Bignoniaceae) and has gone by other names such as Anisostichus capreolata, Doxantha capreolata, and Anisostichus crucigera, writes Cynthia Mueller, Galveston County Master Gardener (http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/newsletters/hortupdate/2009/may09/Crossvine.html). Given a sentence like that, is it any wonder I would never think of studying horticulture in a formal setting?

Take a moment to look up what Dorothy Parker said about horticulture.

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Spring just wouldn’t be spring without the sherbet colors of the mutabilis rose, which you can also find on the Aggie Horticulture website. It is named for the changing colors of the blossoms, from yellow to pink to crimson during the course of the day.

We only have one mutabilis now, since I pulled out the one at the corner of the house by the garage when Floyd requested that short-cut to the hose. It’s sad in a way, but while we’re on the topic of garden poetry we shouldn’t ignore the implications of an entity that possesses great beauty but draws blood if you come too close.

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Here’s a photo of the mutabilis that remains, framed by the back door, learning to be a tree. How many kinds of changeability can one plant possess?

I should have started shaping this one much sooner, but I rarely expect the things I plant to grow, let alone launch a takeover. Mutabilis can become a 6’x6′ giant in no time. At one point in its first year, I propped it on a little trellis and walked away without a second thought. The mutabilis responded by shoving the trellis over about 45 degrees and growing its stem right over the metal. Now what, a trellisectomy?

Sometimes your plants just have to forgive you for your mistakes, your neglect, your inadequate efforts. There’s something poetic about adoring someone who falls short in the way humans do. Not that I would know anything about that in my current life, which is pretty darn perfect if I do say so. I happen to be very fond of my Prius.

One Perfect Rose

A single flow’r he sent me, since we met.
All tenderly his messenger he chose;
Deep-hearted, pure, with scented dew still wet –
One perfect rose.

I knew the language of the floweret;
‘My fragile leaves,’ it said, ‘his heart enclose.’
Love long has taken for his amulet
One perfect rose.

Why is it no one ever sent me yet
One perfect limousine, do you suppose?
Ah no, it’s always just my luck to get
One perfect rose.

Dorothy Parker

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