We’ve been having the most splendid weather of the year, and being indoors makes no sense whatsoever.
We have no shortage of sunshine in Central Texas as you know, although winter can be dull and gray enough to cause significant Solar Amnesia. But days of spotless sunshine, cool shade, and excitable breezes can be in short supply: it seems we go from freeze warnings to full-out summer conditions overnight. On days like this I just want to sit at the little table by the back gate and spy on hummingbirds.
For two weekends running, we’ve worked hard to clean up every dead thing and prepare the yard to more or less take care of itself. This is the time of year when the giant live oak fills its surroundings with fallen leaves, and weeds pop up with great enthusiasm while we sleep. Many leaf bags and unhappy muscles must be brought to bear. Even the backyard birdbath has been scrubbed clean, its clear water reflecting new foliage.
A whole lot of miles have been logged on Fitbit just running from one part of the yard to another – and let’s face it, if the little machine is going to give me credit for arm-swinging whether I’m walking or not, I’m going to take the credit. The days are long like childhood Spring days are long, ending with dirty ankles and white feet, and fingernails that need attention. One of the best parts about being a grownup is that you get to take a cold beer with you to the bath, perching it carefully on the side of the tub away from the place where your helpful dog will be dropping toys into the water.
When Travis and I drove over to The Natural Gardener Friday morning, it felt like the season was truly under way. The whole place was pulsing with new life, and wildflowers, herbs, vegetable plants, and flowering trees were everywhere. I didn’t pick up much, just a few basil plants, some succulents, and some Prairie Verbena. And one stupid tomato plant in a big pot, now living outside the back door. I don’t know what comes over me. Because it’s going to have to stay in a pot, and so will the basil: I have no place in the back yard left for plants if I want room for two people and a dog.
Even the herb garden is jam-packed. My lavender survived the winter, much to my surprise; and the rest of the little bed is solid with herbs I hope will feed caterpillars: curly parsley, dill, fennel. I fully intend to cover the bed with netting once I see caterpillars – one experience with watching a mockingbird pick off one fat swallowtail caterpillar after another was enough for me. If the birds want to feast, they are going to have to risk ensnarement.
There was also enough mint to have forced me into a giant pitcher of Mojitos when the fam came over for Sunday lunch. No problem harvesting mint: I should harvest it by dragging it up by its roots.
I’m trying my hand with more succulents in the yard, though my track record is not to be mentioned. I put a couple under the Mexican Bird of Paradise alongside a handsome chunk of cedar I dragged home from the greenbelt a few weeks ago, and I couldn’t resist planting one in a rock Floyd unearthed when we dug the hole for the new backyard oak last fall. People all over the neighborhood have billowing waterfalls of succulents in every bed and planter, why then oh why can’t I? This year I am trying neglect, since the one in-ground succulent I do have that thrives was hidden under a mass of purple lantana all last summer.
Speaking of, it is blossoming into a spectacular wildflower season around here. Bluebonnets, bluebonnets everywhere. (Attention all Texas drivers: be prepared for babies, small children, and dogs to be posing for the requisite Unbelievably Original Museum-Quality Photo “Amidst the Bluebonnets” as you drive along our highways and byways this coming Easter weekend. Fortunately, few people in Texas or anywhere else read this blog, since Texans are extremely sensitive to any criticism of their treasured tradition of trampling acres of the state flower in their efforts to make a statement for the family photo album and those of us hapless enough to be caught in their Facebook contacts list. I would surely hate to be vilified for coming out in favor of leaving wildflowers uncrushed.)
Whew. Hardly saw that rant coming. Clearly my mood has been affected by the arrival of Monday morning and associated expectation that I will spend the vast majority of the day indoors. Bah.
Last year was my first season to have poppies. I bought a few varieties as plants, then threw down seeds when they were done. I think my poppy plants are way behind those magnificent masses out at The Natural Gardener, but this weekend I discovered two early blooms. Sweet red things with flowers roughly the diameter of a quarter: this is the kind of thing that makes being indoors so onerous at this time of year. Everywhere you turn, there’s something to surprise and amaze. Indoors? Just another load of laundry and the dishwasher waiting to be emptied.
The Jerusalem Sage is cranking up for yet another season of astonishment. I cut it back to the ground at the end of its blooming last year, and right about now I’d say it’s roughly 2.5 feet in diameter, a ball of silvery leaves with these tall stalks getting ready to produce flower on top of flower. That tiny black speck is just a grain of “Flower Power” dry plant food I threw out the other day. It will confuse me by looking like insect poop for weeks, or until it rains and dissolves – and we have some hopes for rain this week.
All over the yard, the various cactus citizens seem to be heaving a sigh of relief now that the cold weather is over. Expect some photos of buds, blossoms, and new paddles as the weeks go by. This little collection by the back gate seems content, with colors ranging from silver to pinkish-purple. The four-inch-square-tubing containers seem ideal, and they were free. Make friends with a welder, or use materials you scavenge, I say.
I also managed to more or less attach a big terra-cotta bowl to the stump of that magnolia we took down in that area of the yard, and it’s practically level. This made a great spot for a bowl of cactus. If I run into it too many times I’ll switch it to a bowl of something else, but why not start the growing season on an optimistic note?
The whole yard is still redolent with the fragrance of holly flowers, still abuzz with honeybees. There are too many shades of green to count, on every tree, shrub, and grassy expanse. All new and unmolested. All Spring.
At the feeders, cardinals who shared peaceably all winter are dive-bombing one another in an obvious bid to be chosen for DNA survival. There are hummingbirds of two sexes, clearly, and they manage to take turns rather more civilly than when two males do their “War Over the Pacific” impersonations. Out front the owl box is clearly being occupied by the male and female in turn, and so we remain guardedly optimistic that this year there may again be owlets. I love these days when the windows can still be thrown open and ten different strains of birdsong come through the house.
Not that I’m spending much time in the house. I go in to get a drink, maybe sit down for a few minutes, maybe even pick up a book. But I can’t read for long or pay bills or write an exam I need to write, because something wonderful could be happening in the yard. Come on, Travvy, I’ll say, let’s go see what’s going on outside.
Even at the end of the day, even when I’m really tired and used up, the light will come through the kitchen window at a certain angle, irresistible; and I find I’m up again, reaching for the leash and the camera, hoping for something. I wasn’t up to much of a walk last night as the workful weekend came to a close and my feet and back were competing for Loudest Complainer status. But a couple of blocks away the sun was heading down through new leaves and the grass of one fetch-playing space was as soft and green as it will ever be.
Even then, indoors seems impossible.
Before I forget, though, I do want to pay tribute to some indoor residents I saw at the Smithsonian. I occasionally experience a wave of fear that I shall one day take up orchids. Nothing like a high-dollar, high-maintenance hobby for one’s dotage. I envision myself becoming quietly obsessed, Nero Wolfe without the deductive reasoning or the rooftop greenhouse, fastidiously managing extant species while plotting to unleash previous unknowns into the orchid world.
My sister lived in Hawaii years ago and hated returning to the mainland. Even in Connecticut she manages to grow orchids. For a number of years she subscribed to at least one Hawaiian Sunday newspaper so she could keep track of weather conditions and spray hers generously when the time was right.
I’m way too unruly for that sort of thing as you know, but I admit to being rather smitten with these – yes, exotic – specimens. They all have name plates there in the Natural History Museum, and I photographed name plates with the intention of passing names along; but we all know what good intentions are good for.
There’s something about orchids that manages to straddle a fine line between splendidly beautiful and horrifyingly creepy. Any one of these creatures looks to me as if it could show up in your bedroom at one a.m. and drain the life blood from your veins. Smiling beautifully the whole time.
But I’m glad I took the time, away from the massive hordes that crowded the nearby room that houses the Hope Diamond, to check out the orchids. Their space is reverentially hushed and naturally kept rather rainforest-like; so on a ferociously windy and cool Washington D.C. afternoon they provided the illusion of being outdoors without the misery.
I hope if I ever get another lifetime that I’ll be able to spend it in a place with the ocean all around and insanely elaborate floral specimens tumbling down the sides of cliffs and trees.
For sure you’d never find me indoors.