Saturday, June 30, 2012

99 Words On: Changes in the Landscape

For thirty-five years our yard bathed in darkness. We purchased it that way. Taller shrubs photosynthesized by outstretching their lowly brethren – becoming leggy while their lessers hunkered.

Disease and the past years’ October storm necessitated the removal of three major shade-makers. Daylight is no longer just for those at the top.

 Three spring months into our new landscape Japanese Spirea, previously secret, wave lacy pink florets; hitherto unseen Rose of Sharon and flowering crabapple rise from the warmth at their roots; while shade-loving hosta and coral bell turn to crinkling rust.

There is a dark side to the sun.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Vegetative Volunteers

The hollyhocks, seeds of which we imported four years ago from our daughter-in-law’s garden in Santa Fe New Mexico, are hopscotching their way around our property. Like Patty Hearst, they have changed from “abductees” to “volunteers”. Fortunately for us, unlike Tania the Terrorist, they are not brandishing weapons – although I am more than a little worried about their future plans.
Let me explain.

Our yard has a long history of vegetative volunteerism. Our first vegetable garden was planted on Memorial Day weekend of 1977 and contained, among other things, some cherry tomato plants – Sweet 100s I believe. They grew and produced, if not their eponymous amount, then certainly enough to keep us fed during our daily sojourns into the plot and its adjacent area. (Marsha and I never, ever, bring the bite-sized red fruits into our house; they are always devoured in situ while warm and at their juiciest.)

The next year we planted three more and got, in return, five or six plants – a trio of new ones and a pair of spontaneous spinoffs from the prior year. And so it has gone. This year we only planted one because actually three are enough for the two of us.

Early in the history of this same piece of cultivated land my in-laws secretly planted some amaranth that was growing (I do not know why) in their own vegetable plot. It is a tall herb with a feathery maroon flower and a thick stalk that sometimes requires the use of a pruning saw to take down. Like the aforementioned hollyhocks and cherry tomatoes it has consistently regenerated itself year after year after year….

The latter two crops have thus far limited their travels to different areas within their original garden. To me this is a good thing. I have a hard enough time managing and maintaining the stuff that grows where I put it, without having to deal with a piece of greenery that is looking to find its own place in the sun.

A few years ago that bed was converted from from 100% vegetable to a 90/10 perennials/tomatoes mix. The hollyhocks made their east coast debut as one of the new perpetual crops. Up until this season they also had stayed within their boundary. But this year they are definitely expanding their range – already advancing into the front yard.

A former fellow Men's Garden Club of Wethersfield member  recently sent me this photo that he says are some of our hollyhocks growing in the backyard of his and his wife’s new house in Boise, Idaho.

Mars and I must have given them seeds.  The alternative is just too scary to contemplate.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

99 Words on "What's in a Name?"

“What’s in a name?” Plenty.  Take “The Worshipful Company of Gardeners”.

Chartered in 1605 to practice the “crafte or misterie of gardening, planting, grafting, setting, sowing, cutting, arboring, rocking, mounting, covering, fencing and removing of plants, herbes, seedes, fruites, [and] trees" for British Royalty – nowadays they hang out with Princess Kate and strew her with flowers.

Meanwhile TheMen’s Garden Club of Wethersfield performs the same gardening “misteries”, but has no monarchical cred.

But we could get that with the right label!

Think of the prestige!  Think of the public relations! Think of Pippa Middleton on our next calendar

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Father's Day Haiku

Being dad's easy
if you marry the right wife
and have the right son.

Friday, June 15, 2012

What's New?

 We are told to learn something new every day.  The other day I learned five.  But that doesn’t mean that now I get to shut down mentally for seventy-two hours.
A group of volunteers and staff from Wethersfield Historical Society (including Mars and I) visited Historic Deerfield – “an open-air living history museum dedicated to the heritage and preservation of Deerfield, Massachusetts and the Connecticut River Valley”.   Studying the old is often a way to discover something new.
We broke into four groups, and ours strolled north along “The Street” past Deerfield Academy prep school and various houses of the 18th and 19th century to the “Williams House” – originally built in 1730 by Hinsdale and Anna Williams, then extensively renovated to its present appearance in 1816 by Ebenezer Hinsdale Williams (the son), a landowner and farmer.  A major goal of the refurbishment, according to our guide, was to create an appearance of great wealth by only revamping those portions of the structure that the public would either see from the outside or visit in the interior – for example the house was raised eighteen inches in order to create a sun fan over the front door, and the room in which guests were entertained got a large-scale makeover, while the family’s private sitting room was basically unchanged.  It was a nouveau riche quest for “curb appeal” – both exterior and inside.  Some of the people that Ebenezer Williams was trying to impress lived at our next stop on the tour.

“Built in 1799, the Asa Stebbins House features Federal period architecture, wall treatments, and decorative arts.  It was the first brick house in Deerfield, and the interior of the house features neoclassical furnishings dating from 1790 to 1830.  Inspired by ancient Greek and Roman design, this style was popular in the years following the American Revolution. One of Deerfield’s wealthiest and most highly respected citizens, Stebbins’ selection of brick construction and linear neoclassical design was a stylish departure from earlier Deerfield houses with their wooden clapboards and bold pedimented doorways.  Of special note are French scenic wallpaper panels by Joseph Dufour depicting the voyages of Captain Cook, freehand wall painting that may have been executed by itinerant artist Jared Jessup in 1812, and several portraits by Erastus Salisbury Field of nearby Sunderland, Massachusetts.”

The Stebbins House also contained the first orrery I had ever seen.  It was sitting on a table in a darkened room at the top of the stairway and looked like a small sculpture of five leather balls of various sizes – the largest of which sat at one end next to a round, horizontal circular metal disc, while the rest were grouped around each other at the other extremity.   The device looked capable of movement, although the lack of light made it difficult to see how such activity could be achieved.

When we went downstairs I asked the housesitting docent who happened to be reading “Fifty Shades of Gray” in between visitors, what the contraption was.

“It’s an called an orrery and it was used to teach about the solar system.  You move the planets around by manipulating pulleys.”

“Kind of an educational toy?”


“And how is orrery spelled?”

She reached under her table and brought out a large, wire bound, notebook within which lay the answer.  I pondered the etymology of my newest word discovery intermittently throughout the day.  Later at home I learned from Wikipedia that the first such planetary gadget of the modern era was built in 1704 and presented to the Earl of Orrery.   It was a disappointing word history but an interesting new piece of knowledge nonetheless.

Next we moved further down “The Street” to the site’s Silver Collection comprised of an exceptional assortment of the usual suspects (tankards, tea pots, bowls, etc. Paul Revere, etc.) – and (something completely new to me) “Apostle Spoons”.  These utensils look exactly like what their name implies – Christ or one of his twelve original followers shown at the top of each handle with, or represented by, his own symbol: Christ: cross and orb, Saint Peter: a sword or a key, sometimes a fish, Saint Andrew: a cross, Saint James the Greater: a pilgrim's staff, St. John: the cup of sorrow, Saint Philip: a staff, Saint Bartholomew: a knife, Saint Thomas: a spar, Saint Matthew: an axe or halbert, Saint James the Lesser: a fuller's bat, Saint Jude: a carpenter's set square, Saint Simon Zealotes: a long saw, and Judas Iscariot: a bag of money. 

 “Apostle spoons were particularly popular in Pre-Reformation times when belief in the services of a patron saint was still strong.”   This seems akin to the Spanish settlers of early New Mexico who, in the absence of money or old world skills and technology, painted and carved their own rustic wooden “santos” as objects of devotion and favor seeking.  And, I suspect, just as these southwestern icons have become modern cultural collectibles, so were the Apostle Spoons accumulated and displayed by the status conscious citizens of early Deerfield. 

Our final stop of the day was the Wells-Thorn House – clearly visible by its bright blue exterior.
“Built in 1747, the Wells-Thorn House presents period rooms depicting the lifestyle of Deerfield residents in a progression from the early days of 1725 all the way up to the high-style of the 1850s.  It is furnished to illustrate the development of the agricultural economy, domestic life, and refinement in the Connecticut Valley. The earliest rooms of the Wells-Thorn House show life in Deerfield during the frontier period. As consumer goods became more plentiful, craftsmen expanded their skills, and gentility and modernity replaced security as a concern.  Later period rooms in the house reflect the increased availability of consumer goods and the growing prosperity and sophistication of Deerfield’s residents.”

One indicator of that growing prosperity and sophistication was a framed piece of artwork hanging on a wall that our docent told us was an example of  “schoolgirl art” – a phrase that I later input to my favorite Internet search engine with a lot of apprehension and a little illicit curiosity.  Some of the results – “Shocking Schoolgirl Art - Macabre Manifestations of the 'Lolita ...” – were not a surprise.

As defined by our Deerfield docent however “schoolgirl art” is what they call the artwork created by the female students of educational institutions such as Deerfield Academy, et al.  The medium here was needlework and, unlike orreries and Apostle Spoons, which I had never seen before this outing, I was visually familiar with this type of craft  – we do watch Antiques Roadshow – but not its label. 

At home that evening Mars and I watched a DVD of a PBS program on British royal weddings that we had copied the night before.  I was tired and paying half-attention when I sort of saw something that made me stop and back up the narrative in order to watch it again more closely.  The speaker was talking about the floral arrangements for one of the ceremonies, and the subtitle identifying the talker said he was a member of the “Worshipful Company of Gardeners”.

“The Worshipful Company of Gardeners is one of the Livery Companies of the City of London. An organisation of Gardeners existed in the middle of the fourteenth century; it received a Royal Charter in 1605. The Company no longer exists as a regulatory authority for the sale of produce in London; instead serving as a charitable institution. The Company also performs a ceremonial role; it formally presents bouquets to the Queen and to Princesses upon their wedding, anniversary, or other similar occasion.

The Gardeners' Company ranks sixty-sixth in the order of precedence for Livery Companies. Its motto is In The Sweat Of Thy Brows Shalt Thow Eate Thy Bread.”

The Men’s Garden Club of Wethersfield, to which I belong, pales in literary comparison to this nobly named gang of jardinières.

“Orrery”, “Apostle Spoons”, “Schoolgirl Art”, and the “Worshipful Company of Gardeners” all in one day.  It is almost enough to put even the most ardent logophile – especially one who utilizes ostentatious verbiage to embellish his own curb appeal – at a complete loss for words. 


(B.T.W. – a logophile is a lover of words.  And that would be the fifth new thing.)

Photos by Mars -

Sunday, June 10, 2012

99 Words on Acorns

In autumn the squirrels bury acorns – each one (so I’ve read) placed fastidiously in its proper place and cataloged in the little rodent’s mind by the process of geometric triangulation.

I’ll accept that as fact – I believe the tree-rodents in my yard are much more cunning and clever than we mortals give them credit for.

So, on an early June day when I look down at my flowerbeds and see an aerial view of a two-inch tall oak forest, I can only conclude that, like most geniuses, squirrels just can’t be bothered cleaning up after themselves – acrobatic absent-minded professors.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

You Have To Plan Ahead In Haiku

To tell a story 
just 17 syllables 
may not be enough….