LETTER FROM HOME
I am blessed, immersed in flora
that faithfully as tides
sends me tumbling every day
toward sunlight; exercise; fresh air;
and a wake-up splash of my senses.
Maturing gardens fill nearly every corner of our yard,
and they have never looked more colorful.
We’ve had decent weather
and provided considerable care.
Every morning, before coffee,
I haul up from the basement water
from the dehumidifier and pour it over
coleus and impatiens beneath a Norway maple.
I’m on the south-facing porch before seven
with my dog Molly and a mugful of coffee,
drinking in the scene as a cyclist speeds by,
trying to outrace the cycling heat.
Layer upon layer of greenery and blooms:
overflowing flower boxes and urns on the porch;
beds lining both sides of the brick walkway
leading to the asphalt sidewalk;
and, beyond, nearly a dozen separate gardens
filling up the long rectangle, formerly lawn,
between sidewalk and street.
Early narcissus, sweet peony,
bleeding heart, and iris
have given way to
bubblegum bee balm and balloon flower,
spikes of purple veronica,
flights of yellow coreopsis,
thunder and lightning rising from mint-and-cream leaves,
sweet pea, heavy with white blossoms, ascending the metal arbor,
drooping arctic poppy buds that pop pastel,
and annuals in every shade:
salmon and vermillion geranium,
purple nicotiana, red-orange marigold,
rose and lemon zinnia;
cosmos (pink and orange) from seed;
volunteer cleome (pink and white),
mauve amaranth, yellow-orange calendula,
blue lobelia, Queen Anne’s lace,
stray dill plant and cherry tomato,
staking their respective claims.
My coffee’s lukewarm
before I can pronounce them all fit.
I walk the same route every morning,
leisurely deadheading and inspecting
every day lily in the front yard,
nearly 40 in all, in a dazzling array
of reds, yellows, oranges, nodding to
the older man with earbuds and black knee brace
who walks the same route every morning.
I visit every flower,
witness the swelling of buds,
the seductive succession of blossoms
from one day to the next,
the incremental growth of every seedling,
while Molly dreams and dozes.
Coffee drained, plants tended,
I go inside, hungry for blueberries
and ready to paint.
* * *
I get a ship’s deck view of this sprawling main
from my second-story window,
and on the western slope,
a vast pool of red bee balm
that in recent years has swamped the lawn,
quadrupling in size, and still growing.
Most days, I spend an hour or two weeding
in late afternoon, a cleansing act
and my best thinking time,
compensation for my long, daily walks
since Molly tore her ACL and cannot run.
Gardening is my yoga.
I reach, stretch, bend, squat,
holding my position
in hard-to-hold poses
as long as it takes
or my legs cramp; pirouette
so as not to injure the plants.
Hot and humid of late with little rain, most nights
I sail through the gauntlet of new gardens behind the garage
pulling a weed here, picking off a spent bud or two,
and set my anchor by the swimming pool
from early evening to dusk, amid a sea of gardens.
Spectacular in scale,
the largest, L-shaped,
40 feet by 60 feet long
and 10 feet wide,
its 20-year wildness restrained
by the bulwark of a wooden fence.
There is half as much again
on the remaining sides:
in a new bed moored before a row of hemlocks,
and along a chain-link fence looking out
to our neighbor’s small orchard
of fall-bearing raspberries and a few old pears.
Their huge, well-cared lawn once pastured horses,
grew enough vegetables to support a farm stand,
and fruit to make a cellarful of wines.
I harvest the scene with ancient eyes.
The L-shaped garden comprises
dense blocks of perennials taller than I
and larger than most gardens,
pretty and exotic as their names:
rolling waves of golden helianthus;
redolent pink and white phlox;
bees blanketing coneflower; and
bee balm, known by more flowery names
bergamot and monarda,
a member of the mint family,
(you can tell by its square stalk),
a favorite of hummingbirds,
the flavor of Earl Grey.
Cresting overhead, giant stands
of plume poppy, ironweed, and Solomon’s seal sway,
and cup flower, whose small yellow flowers
bob above the eight-foot fence.
Cucumbers, eggplant, and peppers
lap the silty shores,
and 20 sturdy day lilies for ballast.
* * *
The gardens take my breath away,
yet there are many ways to breathe back in.
Weeding invigorates the plants
and compels me to sit among them,
brushing up against their smooth stalks or notched leaves,
tender blossoms leaving golden traces on my cheeks,
whisperings of sweet, subtle fragrance and bruised greens,
massaging the soil, stirring my hands
in soft, yielding earth
as cardinal and song sparrow
and another bird that sounds familiar sing.
A distant heron squawks,
a mourning dove’s wings whistle overhead.
I stretch deep inside this ocean view
and gently flex my muscles
as I slowly liberate my favored species.
Watering brings me closer to my plants, and
a daily dose is mandatory for recent transplants:
lantana, peach-colored rose, and Jersey tea;
fragile seedlings; and potted houseplants on the porch.
I, too, thirst for water,
and from the pool’s delicious depths
I see plants from a humble angle:
the underside, below eye level looking up.
The pool’s reflection,
still or undulating,
mirrors the gardens,
still or undulating,
doubling or refracting my view.
* * *
Totally different and exactly the same,
I savor each day with a leisurely tour,
Chardonnay or Sauvignon in hand,
watching a hummingbird hover in mid-air,
a monarch butterfly fluttering by,
a downy woodpecker clinging to
the tall, upright stalk of a wooly mullein,
pecking away at bugs of some kind.
The flowers take on different hues and shapes as the light fades
during the slow, sensual transition from late day to dusk;
pink blushes red and deep purple as petals wither and shrivel.
Like a flower, I, too, eventually fade (sigh), and go inside.
Hours after sleep has settled in,
Teddy the cat jumps on my chest
and I stumble out to get the paper
in bare feet on the asphalt drive,
flinching from an unseen pebble,
reveling in the silence and early light
while the coffee percolates.
12 Replies to “Letter from Home”
always a pleasure, Russell. Keep on, keepin’ on!
Thank you, Robert! I appreciate it from someone as busy and thoughtful as you.
Thank you for thus beautiful description of your garden. Even though it has been about 20 years since I’ve seen it I feel like I can picture it, just a little. Incredible!
Much appreciated, Alison, and I remember well that last visit. Maybe you’ll see it again before we’re old and gray and your children have grown up! I hope you and your beautiful family are well.
Thanks Russell! You paint a lovely picture with your writing ❤️
Thank you, Barbara. Wish you were here to see it in person, and I appreciate the kind words.
I am so happy to have been to your home and seen the fruit of your labor… and your description creates that same beauty in your words. xx
Thank you, Diane! I’m glad you were able to visit, and hopefully there will be a return! I appreciate the kind words.
You, indeed, paint a beautiful picture of your gardens. I can visualize the flowers, many of which I have in our yard and beds, and smell their scents through your words. One can get lost in time caring for all these beautiful blooms but it is very rewarding. I
Thank you, Jan. A lovely comment. Your gardens are spectacular!
Thank you Russ. I have had the pleasure of watching your gardens grow and take shape and can imagine and share in your joy of color, texture and shape from every vantage point, an every changing kaleidoscope of beauty tended to with your loving hands. Thank you again for inspiring me to see and feel the tiniest bits of life. Thank you too for making this gift for all of us.
Thank you, Jan! You were one of the people I had in mind when I sat down to write this. I’m so glad you enjoyed it!!