This afternoon found me outside on the deck, in the pleasant shade by the house, the last of the towels drying on the line. The rudbeckia is in full bloom and as I wrote, I let my eyes stray to them often as I watched bees and other pollinators work over the flowers. In the farthest corner of the back yard, where Warren's shed is, the rudbeckia we transplanted along the west side of the shed now reaches above the lowest part of the sloping roof.
A cicada chattered somewhere. Finches and other small bird plied the feeder on the dogwood tree.
Need I add that it was an ideal summer day? The temperature was cool, the humidity was low, the sky was blue, the air was mild. It is evening now and rain is coming as I type these words, but they were penned in the sweetness of the afternoon. The rest of this post reflects that present time, not this one.
On the deck against the house and in the shade are three pots of coneflowers I brought home from the store earlier today. These will go into the ground this weekend. Against the garage wall, in the vegetable garden, are nine pots of daylilies (two crowns to a pot), also waiting to go into the ground. Warren and I have been discussing making a bed of daylilies in the back yard against the pine trees.
The daylilies, which are not in the Lily family at all, are mostly a creamy white/yellow flower, although three pots are of a bronzed red shade. The coneflowers are one of the new shades that recently debuted, these being a red color instead of the traditional purple.
Against all odds, I am becoming a lady gardener.
I don't use "lady gardener" as a pejorative. Gardening is hard work, regardless of your gender or your name. By lady gardener, I mean I see myself drifting away from food production (a few tomatoes aside) and increasingly establishing and planting perennial gardens that bring color to my eyes and peace to my spirits.
The rudbeckias are perennials. The black-eyed Susans against the back of the house are perennials, along with the blackberry lilies (which are true lilies). Blanket flowers are also perennials, although I will likely have to reestablish them next year due to poor gardening tactics (mine) and even poorer planning (also mine) this year.
As I write these lines, I glance up at the rudbeckia. The yellow of the petals is so intense that it almost hurts my eyes.
I will move the spiderwort beds to the shadier north side of the house in the spring. They are in the front bed now, which is on the west side, and they always burn up in the full sun.
As I said, being a lady gardener is not easy.
I have two favorite books about gardening, but they are not gardening books per se. One is Onward and Upward in the Garden by Katherine S. White. It is a posthumous collection of her reviews of garden catalogues for The New Yorker, at which she worked for many years. While ostensibly she was reviewing the seed offerings for the season, White, a passionate gardener, added commentaries and observations about gardening as well. E. B. White, her husband, gives us a glimpse of his wife in the preface: "I seldom saw her prepare for gardening, she merely wandered out into the cold and wet, into the sun and the warmth, wearing whatever she had put on that morning...unhesitatingly she would kneel in the dirt and begin grubbing about, garbed in a spotless cotton dress or a handsome tweed skirt and jacket. She simply refused to dress down to a garden..."
The other favorite is Noah's Garden by Sarah Stein. Despite its title, the book is not about Biblical gardening. Instead, it is about re-establishing "the ecology of our back yards." Stein writes of turning her rather standard "dead" yard (mowed, fertilized, and sprayed lawns, hybrid annuals that did not seed, non-fruiting ornamental planting) into a living property with native plants and bushes, seed producing plantings, and increased cover that attracted back to her non-urban property insects (fireflies, bees, other pollinators, to name a few) and animals (quail, frogs, songbirds, foxes, to name a few more). Every time I look at the Bradford pear in the backyard, a tree of great beauty when it blossoms but of no use after that, I appreciate Stein's theme all the more.
Both books are by and about strong woman gardeners, both to me are lady gardeners. And now I am drifting towards that rank. Each year there are fewer tomatoes (an apostasy in and of itself) and more color.
There will still be annuals: the marigold border around the vegetable garden (increasingly a flower garden), a large basil patch (some of it for pesto, most of it for the bees), the tomatoes, of course. But my thoughts will continue to be of perennials, of leaving a legacy in color.
The yellow of the rudbeckia! I cannot get enough of it. And the bees in the rudbeckia! And the intensity of the day!
And the brightness in my soul.