Gardens are such obvious teachers we might wave our hands in dismissal. “Oh,” with an additional shake of the head, “We knew that already!” But in these days of information and calculation, dumb lessons dog us.
Imagine a California garden in winter, for example. Palm trees, surfers and tropical flowers may come to mind. Nope. We’re north. Home to fallen leaves, red berries, and decaying camellias. That particular camellia is a sasanqua, if you wondered.
My part of California doesn’t go white in December. We’ll get gray skies with rain, or blue with still-warm sun. Both support growth.
So little new green things sprout just as our leaves fall. These below look like 4-leaf clovers, but they are actually oxalis. An acid yellow flower will follow, but disappear almost as quickly as it blooms. As I imagine prairie winds act on grasses, but would have to visit to know.
Here’s a bush called “mock orange.” When bruised, the shrubby foliage smells like a car crash of orange peel and gasoline, so hold your breath to prune.
And a teeny pink flower, whose species I don’t know. Barely the size of my little fingernail, pretending to be a carnation, and I for one will not wreck its dreams. I like to think my garden’s accidental and all the plants nameless.
While Conceptual California is vivid, large and maybe laughing, the earth version is subtle in its seasons, and minute in its blooms.
Pay attention. Unvalidated concepts can be risky.
We might also imagine, “A paradise! How wonderful to live in such growth!” And while for me that’s true, think of what we miss, back up a bit. I never experience the drama of a New England winter, as documented beautifully by Jeanne on Collage of Life. Her berries, vivid on a bare branch.
Coastal Californians can’t grow tulips, unless we refrigerate the bulbs. Kind of destroys the romance, right? “‘Scuse me while I rummage ’round the mustard jars and find my flowers-to-be.”
Can’t grow overflowing lilacs.
Or peonies, glamorous in their youth. Even more so in decay.
Big flowers need winter rest. Nobody could keep up Full Peony without a little time off. They call it “vernalization.”
Now, back up so far in conceptual space that you can see Australia. Imagine we’re horticultural astronauts. In Australia Christmas means a day at the beach, and Faux Fuchsia, the doyenne of Vivid, Authentic, and Committed, protecting her garden from bush turkeys. Behold, as pink as her nails, green as Puccis.
Another dumb lesson. Lives are different. The world supports us all.
Sometimes the dumb lessons are the hardest to learn, even for smart people in the smartest of all possible worlds. We’re embedded in our surroundings. It’s as close as I get to rapture, looking closely, then flying backwards to see the wide horizon.
A dumb hope.
Peace on earth, the real earth, and good will towards all that live.
Tulips on my Windowsill by Jill Clardy
Lilacs by Ann Althouse
The Last Of The Peonies by Smilla4
Winterberries by Jeanne at Collage of Life
Australian Winter Garden by FF at Faux Fuchsia
All others, me