Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Green Force, Gardeners, and the Poetry of Theodore Roethke - A guest post by Jenny N. Sullivan

Writer Jenny N. Sullivan is a garden club member from Northern Virginia and today's guest blogger. Enjoy! t

The Green Force, Gardeners, and the Poetry of Theodore Roethke
by Jenny N. Sullivan

                  Soon the leaves will be raked into the street where they will vanish as the roaring vacuum truck crawls along the curb.  The lawn will be aerated and the beds put down for the season. Then what is a gardener to do with no pruning, planting, weeding or raking to make demands of time and energy? The wise gardener can soothe that restlessness by visiting the poems of Michigan poet Theodore Roethke, a man who grew up with a German immigrant father who owned and operated 250,000 square feet of greenhouses in Saginaw.  That’s right, almost six acres of greenhouse, the largest compound of greenhouses in Michigan at the time.  Young Theodore, born in 1908, also had the run of 22 acres of open land behind his house as well as woods and wetland his father owned.

                  Perhaps it was inevitable that Roethke, once he began writing poetry, would write about plants. A collection of these poems has come to be known informally as his “Greenhouse Poems,” even though many poems go beyond that single location, as their provocative titles make clear. He writes about a “Root Cellar,” about a “Weed Puller,” and about “Transplanting.” Other poems with horticultural titles such as “Moss-Gathering,”  “Orchids,” and “Child on Top of a Greenhouse,” among many more, are irresistible to anyone who loves flora and the tending of it.
                  Roethke was interested in observing what Stanley Kunitz called the “green force” of a leaf or flower or stem. The poet was in awe of that force, saying in one poem that it caused him to “quail.” Many of us who cannot write poetry feel the same way about the “green force” and can relate to what he describes in, for example, his poem “Cuttings.”  Anyone who has successfully propagated a new plant from a cutting appreciates the joy this poem conveys.  This cutting, a thing that looks like a mere “stick,” is only sleeping, “in-a-drowse.” But put it into a good mixture of “sugary loam,” loose like sugar, to a gardener also sweet like sugar, and see what happens.  The plant drinks nourishing water until, in a beautifully restful and satisfying monosyllabic line of the poem: “The small cells bulged.” The closing stanza gives the reader an image like time-lapse photography of the growing plant pushing through the potting mixture to unfurl its glorious, delicate new self, its “tendrilous horn.”  I too “quail.”
                   Roethke’s poem “Root Cellar” is best appreciated by those who love compost piles and natural fertilizer, those who can respect and admire a good manure. In this root cellar, “dank as a ditch,” things are growing uncontrollably, like those store-bought onions sprouting in the cabinet under your counter in spring. To some, Roethke’s root cellar would be just a dark and smelly place. The poem calls it “a congress of stinks.” To lovers of plants, that organic material is a repository of energy.  That energy comes from the plants that have grown beyond ripeness to pulpiness and decay to become “silo-rich.”  In decay and death, they feed new life. Why, even “the dirt kept breathing.”
                  Many gardeners grew up loving plants because a parent or grandparent nurtured this love in us. Theodore Roethke gives us a stunner of a moment from his childhood with his father in the greenhouse in an excerpt from “The Rose.” “And I think of roses, roses…/And my father standing astride the cement benches,/Lifting me high over the four-foot stems…/What need for heaven then,/With that man, and those roses?”

                   Roethke’s collected poems are available from major booksellers and can be found on the shelves of the public library. They are well worth picking up and reading this winter when snow covers everything and the ground is rock solid. They are the perfect cold weather companion for the housebound gardener sitting at the window, by a warm fire, occasionally glancing out at the fallow yard.

Monday, September 7, 2015

September: Last of the Summer Wine - A guest post by Christine Wegman

Welcome to guest blogger, Christine Wegman! Christine is a Rock Spring Garden Club member in National Capital Area Garden Clubs' District III.  She is one of the go-to 'hort' experts in her club. Christine and her husband, Charlie Flicker, are avid and generous gardeners and have cultivated a delightful garden (for any season) in Arlington, Virginia.  Enjoy! t

Fall is my favorite season, but at the beginning of September I am not quite prepared to give up lazy summer days for the rush of color and energy that the season brings.  September in this area seems more summer than autumn, and so I will imagine that you are still enjoying pleasant evenings with a glass of wine on your porch or patio. 

A good way to extend the feeling of a summer garden is through white flowers and foliage.  In the heat of July and August nothing seems as cool as touches of white. 
White Garden at Barrington Court
A small border of green, white and pale yellow can have a calming and cooling effect, especially if other parts of the garden contain lots of hot reds, pinks and yellows.  Sprinklings of airy white flowers throughout a garden draw the eye and create a beautiful shimmering effect. 

Cool white and blue contrasts well with hot pinks
In the evening, as the sun fades, the last color that the eye perceives is white, so white flowers will bring the eye out into the garden. 
For large masses of white, there are a few good choices.  The late blooming hydrangeas
Hydrangea paniculata
produce panicles of white flowers that eventually fade to shades of pink and green.
  Any number of these lovely shrubs, in almost any size, are on the market.  The ‘Grandiflora’ or PeeGee hydrangea, is probably the best known.  This can be trained into a small tree or kept as a bush.  Others, such as ‘Limelight’, ‘Little Lime’, and ‘Tardiva’ (which blooms a little later than most), are a just few of the available cultivars.  The Rose of Sharon, hibiscus syriacus, is another shrub that continues into September.  Probably the best of these is the white flowered and nearly sterile ‘Diana’, that blooms almost till frost.  Both these shrubs do best in a sunny situation with plenty of water.  Among perennials, white phlox will really catch the eye.

Touches of white in Monet's garden

In his book, The Magic of Monet’s Garden, Derek Fell devotes an entire chapter to the effective use of white in the artist’s famed garden.  “Monet took the Impressionist’s idea of a glittering, sparkling, glimmering, shimmering visual experience into his garden, and it is the sensation of shimmer that identifies his garden more than any other feature.”  Fell explains that, “Delicate touches of white or pale yellow throughout Monet’s garden are mostly achieved through flowering plants that have their flowers widely spaced on a tall flower stalk.”  In September, this effect can be achieved with white colored asters, garlic chives, Japanese anemones, tall chrysanthemums, and bugbanes.  The delicately variegated ‘Morning Light’ miscanthus grass combines beautifully with other perennials and will shimmer when it catches a breeze.

So, enjoy the last days of summer with fresh, cool white and look forward to the glorious hot flashes of fall colors in October. 

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Late Summer Wedding!

Thea here.  I attended a lovely wedding at the end of August up in Gaithersburg, Maryland area.  So many handmade touches.

I love the boutonnieres against the blue ties

 The bridesmaids had flowers in their hair

  The color scheme included a few of my favorite things: sunflowers and deep blue skies.

A bridal bouquet at rest.  Exquisite.

You can't help but smile

A light and sunny touch to the cake (it was delicious, too!)

The bride, her mother, sisters and several best friends did all the table arrangements the day before.

Great job!

The wedding was a perfect blend of country wedding and city glamour.   Sunflowers -  what a joyful flower to start your life with...together.

photographs by Thea McGinnis

Bumper Crops! August Weekend at the Farmer's Market

While visiting family in upstate New York, we made our way to their local farmer's market. Bursting with August's harvest, there were plenty of fruits and vegetables to choose from. Communities committed to hosting farmer's markets mean we all benefit with fresh from field to table produce, and we support our hard working local farmers.
Late summer flowers are great for drying

Yum - green beans!

 Baskets spilling with fresh picked eggplants

Home made root beer and pure maple syrup

Colorful peppers!

Purple peppers?

Lush and juicy tomatoes

  Cukes - just the right size for putting up

Corn picked that morning.

 These melons are perfect.  This kind of bounty won't last too long. So put it in your planner to stop in to your local farmer's market. And take the whole family!

photographs by Thea McGinnis