Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Lulu's Garden

         Few readers of “Gladly Lerne” are likely to be so assiduous as to remember my essay on “The Tornado of Twenty Ten”, but it still exists somewhere out there in the inexhaustible memory bank of the Anima Mundi.  The blog post is, among other things, a photographic memorial to a devastating storm that passed through our neighborhood in August, 2010.  The wind flattened a huge linden tree on the west side of our house, which was spared from major damage by a few capricious inches.

            I was so relieved at having escaped major catastrophe that I at first paid little attention to the mere disaster it did produce.  The linden’s twisting roots undermined a section of one of my stone walls, and it crashed down upon a row of three fine mature holly trees paralleling the house—essentially our privacy screen on its west side.  The southernmost holly it destroyed utterly, leaving the other two as maimed and blasted as the background in a classical Japanese ink drawing.

            Eventually I got around to trying to clean up the mess.  I have left the remains of the blasted hollies for experimental purposes.  I am turning them into a living trellis for two concord grape vines, which I hope will create a leafy screen, and one attractive to birds.  That scheme got off to a pretty good start last year; by June I’ll know if it is going to work in the long run.  The killing ground itself, however, needed more radical intervention, and that’s where Lulu came in handy.

            Lulu is my middle granddaughter, and a precocious landscape architect.  She advised me that what was needed was a new strip of lawn between the house and the bonsai hollies.  A new stone path linking back yard with front should transverse the new greensward.  That is a distance of some twenty yards, and I could tell she was a real architect in the making by the blitheness of her proposal of a herculean labor that was, of course, to be achieved entirely by the sweat of somebody else, namely her aging grandfather.  But I try always to follow expert advice, and it is fun scrounging the necessary stone in old dump sites.

            Lulu took a much more hands-on attitude to creating the mini-garden that should lie between the new stone path and the old stone wall.  According to her architectural theory, it should be less formal than the patch between the walkway and the house.  Indeed, it should exploit something of the ruggedness of the stone wall and the brokenness of the holly trees.  She didn’t actually use the phrase “architectural quotation,” but that was clearly the concept she had in mind.   The plan was to create by artifice a seemingly natural grassy patch randomly scattered with daffodils and featuring a couple of handsome and carefully placed rough squares of stone.

            Since what was actually there at the moment was a patch of scrabbled ground made green only by a few luxurious weeds, it took a real vision to imagine the concept.  It also took a good deal more work—digging deep around stubborn holly roots, and screening the soil to rid it of its gravel.  This time the architect herself pitched in.  She got her hands dirty—and I mean, really dirty.  New grass in these parts always does much better when planted in the fall, so that Lulu was able to enjoy a certain sense of achievement well before Christmas.

            But the floral heart of the project was an investment in faith, and an exercise in postponed gratification—not ordinarily the forte of nine-year olds.  But this week she has viewed the results.  How could burying those funny little daffodil bulbs, with their dead onion skin and their funny dead tops, actually result in such triumphal beauty?  Her Anglican grandfather was able to find a scriptural reference most apt for Holy Week:  “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless the grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone.  But if it dies, it brings forth much fruit” (John 12:24).  Lulu, whose theology tends to be more Rousseauian, assigns it to the category of fun.  Yet I can hardly demur.  What could be more fun than resurrection?


Three of my gardenian angels
 I have not made a practice of “guest blogs”, as attractive as that possibility has seemed on certain Tuesday evenings.  In fact I have not had a single one.  But the old order must change, as Tennyson says, “Lest one good custom should corrupt the world”; so I conclude with some field notes jotted down by the architect herself:

I loved doing the garden with my granddad. My favorite part was when we had to dig up a lot of soil. We saw so many bugs and worms. It was a lot of fun. The daffodils we planted turned out beautiful and I hope we can plant some more next spring. There is so many nice things in nature in this season. I like to have fun making daffodil bouquets with Cora. It is a lovely sight.



  1. Perhaps the middle ground between the Anglican and the Rousseauian is Wordsworth's "I wandered lonely as a cloud"?

    Or do I just think that because my father cannot walk past the crowd, the host of golden daffodils next to my driveway without quoting it?

  2. That is a very profound remark. Wordsworth must have written that poem in the early 1810s, having already abandoned his enthusiasm for the French Revolution but not yet having slid into the dull piety of his old age. But Lulu does spend a lot of time in vacant or in pensive mood.