Gardens, Books, Unease

Does life right now seem a sort of “Choose Your Own Anxiety” game? Spin the arrow inside one’s brain, and settle on worries about the spread of coronavirus or the (now diminished) smorgasbord of candidates confusing efforts to defeat the incumbent. And then, another set of frets (rightly louder) provide real-life concerns like children or work or health – things one might do something about.

I try and interrupt the head spin with books. So I was glad to get Penelope Lively’s new book, “Life in the Garden.” I have been looking forward to it – a memoir by a favorite writer structured around gardens – her own and literary. Describing her tiny London garden now, and the limitations imposed by a chronic back problem, she says, “This is old-age gardening, and like all other aspects of old age, it creeps up on you, and has to be faced down and dealt with.”

In my favorite parts of this book (aside from the beautiful cover and black and white illustrations inside) Lively considers “gardening as an element of fiction.” She writes, “This is a book in which fictional gardens act as prompts for consideration of what gardens and gardening have been for us, over time.”

And I loved it that she reminded me of books I hadn’t read including her own novel, “Consequences,” a perfect book for escaping the present. Beginning just before the hardships and tragedies of World War II, it opens with a romance that echoes through generations. It ends in this century with changes wrought by modernity and a satisfying linking of the generations.

I really care about Lively’s characters – and relish their observations (which seem like Lively’s voice). On books in a library: “they offer a point of view, they offer many conflicting points of view, they provoke thought, they provoke irritation and admiration and speculation.” A library would be noisy, “with a deep collective growl coming from the core collection…, and the bleats and cries of new opinion, new fashion, new style.”

Such a pleasure to read this book, and to surface and realize that a daffodil, ignoring our national discontent, blooms in my tiny garden.



Ubiquitous Flowers

That’s what a reader called daffodils when I posted them on Valentine’s Day. She’s right, especially the sturdy yellow ones (the color of dandelions, not everyone loves them), and especially on Bainbridge Island where the commenter lives. There, plantings have naturalized along roadsides and at intersections all over the island. These daffodils, bunched buds from the grocery store, opened on my drawing table. Daffodils begin to bloom in the garden –  welcome in their ubiquity.









A Daffodil Tribute

Daffodils – a cheerful presence since January when their spiky leaves emerged in the winter garden, followed by buds and scattered early blossoms in February and a rush of brave blooms all March and April – continue to delight now, nearly May, as I carry weekly bouquets to the wee scholars’ librarian.

For the first couple of years I picked only blossoms blown over by wind, but this year I’ve filled glass vases from Goodwill with generous handfuls of the long-stemmed beauties to give away. Mellow yellow or acid yellow, it’s fun to watch people smile as they walk by them in the library. The young writer called daffodils “sunshine in my house.”

Daffodils danced and bobbed as they absorbed all sorts of nasty weather and never lost heart – perhaps that’s why their nature seems jolly and plucky to me. They grow happily here – melding so harmoniously with forest trees and newly leafed shrubs – in the front garden, the woods garden, and the bride’s garden. Daffodils ask for so little and give so much.

I have a garden writer friend who is a daffodil expert, she understands the descriptive divisions or classifications. I love to hear her pronounce the poetry of intriguing names of daffodils she grows. One evening at her house, daffodils in little vases with names like ‘Thalia,’ ‘Quail,’ and ‘Golden Echo’ lit up the center of her dining table. After she inspires me, I think that if I study them I will know my favorites and do a more selective job of ordering for the fall.

But in truth I love them all (even the ubiquitous grocery store daffodils with canary yellow blossoms which die with a butterscotch fragrance), and I enjoy the surprises that come with ordering by the hundred-fold.

Bulbs look alike before planting, but unexpected combinings result from the relationship of petal to trumpet in colors from vanilla white to egg-yolk yellow. Petal shape can be large or small, pointed or rounded. Cups can be tiny and flat, a two-inch trumpet or tiny trumpet trimmed in orange. Doubles happen – miniature ones with orange cups – even triples with dangling blossoms. A creamy-petalled daffodil has a coral-pink center. A standard yellow daffodil dresses fancy with interior petals shaped and ruffled like an orchid.

Part of my delight in the hundred mix comes from the staggered bloom time allowing such a long display. Perhaps the little fragrant ones I think of as jonquils are favorites. Their heady scent heralds the world’s quickening – through all our many months of spring.