Monday, March 06, 2006

In The Right Place

We've been following the progress of some Crocuses in downtown Hartford. At the moment it's the only indication we've seen that Spring might be nearby.

Sometime last week they burst forth in flower. And this past weekend, after what is hopefully the last snowstorm of this part of the year, they still appeared healthy and strong as they ignored the snow and continued to grow.

Fortunately for them they are in an almost ideal outdoor growing spot - up against a building, sheltered by other structures from the strong winter winds and frozen precipitation, and bathed in sun during that part of the day when it is at its strongest. Plus they are a part of a well maintained corporate garden so I'm sure that the earth that supports them is of the proper composition and has all of the best nutrients.

Still, even though this is a professionally maintained growing area and I've tracked its progress for several years, I'm surprised to see flowers flourishing so successfullly in an urban environment when their suburban cousins are either nowhere in sight or, at best, struggling for recognition.

In general I really like being surprised by plants growing, and sometimes flourishing in conditions that are less than perfect or are even downright hostile to their survival - a tiny shrub clinging inexplicably to a rock solid cliff or a wild rose bush in a darkened forest patch of sunlight.

Still I am admittedly a little upset that in order to see the initial indications of the coming of spring I had to either resort to some really clever fakery or exit (what should be) the garden gemstone exurbs and travel to (what should be) the horticulturally challenged metropolitan area

I mean didn't we all migrate to the burbs in order to replace the concrete jungles of the city with green lawns and thriving vegetation right outside our own front doors? (Perhaps along with good schools, and less crime.)

In fact, isn't that why the suburbs were invented in the first place?

Don't a lot of us spend a good part of our time, sweat and money in the acts of tilling, sowing, watering, weeding and pruning just so we can have this more natural world at our fingertips?

Isn't this, along with golf, the main reason so many of us are so itchy for Spring anyway.

Don't some of us snowbirds even head south to Florida this time of year just to hasten the process (boy, talk about desperate)?

And it will just get worse. On Church Street in downtown Hartford, in front of the "Stilts Building", next to The Hartford Stage Company is a garden that will have, when the seasons perrmit, the most humungous collection of Hostas know to man. Now my Hosta beds are pretty good, probably even a little crowded, and healthy as all get out. But the Church Street Hostas are just huge - I mean man-eatingly enormous. And blindingly colorful. And again, in a fortunately situated corporate garden.

But I've also seen things like this before in totally natural surroundings.

In West Texas' Big Bend National Park a few years ago we canoed, with a guide, up the Rio Grande into Santa Elena Canyon. In this area there just isn't any source of water other than the river, which itself is mighty low and mighty slow (think paddle, paddle, walk & drag, paddle, walk & drag, paddle). And, as an obvious result, pretty much no vegetation, particularly of the green persuasion - with a couple of remarkable exceptions.

At the entrance to the canyon where the dirt banks are lower and close enough to the river to absorb some of the water is a short wall of what would be (in a different setting) swamp grasses. On a subsequent trip we would take the time to walk among these phragmites but on this venture we were, at the insistence of our guide Taz, on our way to Fern Canyon.

Our son and daughter-in-law had previously told us about Fern Canyon after they had explored it on a similar canoe trek - and when we mentioned that to Taz she became commited to getting us to see it also.

After a couple hours of travel (paddle, walk & drag, paddle) we pulled the canoes to shore, made a short but difficult climb up the shore cliffs, and walked inland a few hundred yards across sun-whitened rocks and dry desert dirt. And into one of those startingly beautiful natural scenes that engender emotions like the ones that movies try to emulate when they show actors coming upon for example the Emerald City of Oz, or Shangri-La.

Due to a hydrological quirk of nature, a small pond of water fed from the rocks was supporting a stunningly large garden of deep green ferns - hanging down from the "ceiling"rocks, growing along the walls, and spreading out as far as the water could feed them onto the ground. Other than our clothing it was pretty much the only non-khaki color in sight. And a garden that any suburbanite would be proud to have anywhere on their own property.

Even with our advanced, twenty-first century horticultural knowledge, in the end it really comes down to luck and location, location, location.

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