• John R

I like it.

She doesn’t. At all.

I’m talking about ivy, Hedera helix, that green creeping thing that covers stuff whether you want it to or not.

Our conversations about the ivy that persists in our side yard go something like this:

Me: “Wow, that ivy looks great, so green and everything. And healthy! I mean, it hasn’t rained for like three years and everything else is parched to where it looks like a junk yard devoted exclusively to discarded barbed wire except for that ivy which looks as fresh as…um…a daisy.”

To which she replies, “Schnarfffss!” which, through years of diligent (if sometimes unfortunately belated) decoding, I have come to understand means, “No frecking way, you must devote hours of your time in the immediate future to removing most if not all of it.”

[Lawerence Weslowski/Dreamstime]

To which I rejoin: ”But ivy is more than a plant, it’s an institution! An icon! It swaths the hallowed facades of Princeton University! It adorns the sacred walls of Wrigley Field! If it weren’t for ivy, the entire British Kingdom would collapse in a heap of bricks and cobbles!”

(Quick aside here: I think we can all agree that “bricks and cobbles” would be an excellent name for a pub. I was so intrigued I searched for such an establishment but couldn’t find one. But I can hear it: I say old chap, let’s retire to the Bricks & Cobbles for a pint. There is, however, a quilt pattern called “bricks and cobblestones.” It’s not necessarily my favorite pattern.)

I continue: “Ivy is God’s gift to gardeners! It just grows and grows and you never have to water or fertilize it ever!”

Deb: “Schnarfffssssss!” (note the extra esses).

Left: bricks and cobblestones quilt Right: I'd name this pub The Bricks & Cobbles [Anizza/Dreamstime]

I understand the argument against ivy. Given rein, it will absolutely take over—it’s an indefatigable autocrat. It roots itself to the ground and climbs trees and walls by means of little sticky disks, the tenacity of which can dislodge siding during attempts to remove it.

Personally, I’m all for it. It grows in our side yard, sending tentacles in all directions, searching, always searching, for something to grab onto which, in my Dreams of Gardening Bliss, would be my neighbor’s fence. It’s a fine fence—don’t get me wrong—and I know he spent a pretty penny on it. It separates our properties with neighborly dignity. But in my DoGB I envision a living wall of green, a testament to (my) horticultural competency and a verdant reminder of the relentless urge of Nature to cover the planet with ivy.

Anyway, my neighbor doesn’t like ivy either, in fact he attacks it with certain chemical agents when it peeks out from under the fence because he has a neighbor who has eschewed certain responsibilities and let things get out of hand.

So facing formidable opposition, it is my yearly duty to ferret the ivy out of the side yard. This is a job I have learned to undertake during the winter, when most living things in our yard have endured another year of haphazard stewardship and have gratefully eased into dormancy. The ivy, however, is bright and lively and is easily hunted down.

To do this I get down on my hands and knees. I crawl among the various bushes to pull out the ivy. (Don’t tell anybody, but I will deliberately leave a few ivy plants here and there.)

In the chill I wear my flannel-lined, one-piece overalls. The air is cool and damp. There are robins and wrens and juncos twittering in the trees and bushes. The rain-softened soils yield the roots easily, releasing the smell of fresh earth. To gather the loose ivy, I wind long strings around my hands and wrists.

Next year I’ll be back, in the damp, in my overalls, on my hands in knees, moving among the bushes, serenaded by birds. I am a gardener. I am a garden.

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As 2020 rushes toward conclusion—and not a moment too soon—I thought it a healthy exercise if, rather than dwell on the schiddy, I reflect on the good things that happened in our garden space this year. We are replete with schiddy things, to be sure, which in terms of blog subjects constitutes low-hanging fruit. (A point of clarification: We do not have any real fruit in our garden save currants from our flowering currant bush, and trust me, you’d rather eat litter box sand than one of our mealy little currants. I know, I tried and my first thought after spitting out a dozen or so experimental currants was that I needed to cleanse my palette with a refreshing handful of unscented Tidy Cats.)

But yes! Good things did occur in our stately outdoor pleasure dome during 2020!

Exhibit A: an especially toothsome bowl of organic oatmeal topped with equally organic toasted pecans, dried cranberries, and low-fat yogurt, enjoyed on a warm summer morning on the front stoop. Nothing in this delightful repast came from our “garden,” but having breakfast outside in the sun is one of humankind’s most rewarding experiences and I humbly recommend it over other pastimes, such as consuming dispiriting news de jour.

You might be tempted to look at the background of the oatmeal photo and think, Hey, that garden isn’t so bad. But let’s be honest, the flowering purple things are catmint, Nepeta, a plant that’s virtually impossible to un-grow. Believe me, we’ve tried. It keeps coming back like an unwanted relative who announces they’ve decided to make a long stay in your guest room an annual event. The orange flowers are California poppies, Eschscholzia californica, and having those is about as remarkable as having socks. It’s another flower that will appear, unbidden, season after season. If you have some spare time, try saying Eschscholzia californica five times fast. It can't be done.

Exhibit B: A lovely plate of five-grain French toast with chicken apple sausages (organic, did you really have to ask?), sliced peaches, and punctuated with fat blackberries over a swirl of pure maple syrup, all enjoyed in the shade of our backyard patio. I wish I could say the fruit came from our garden (I suppose I could say it, but I’d be lying). That beautiful fruit came from our friends’ garden and every year they gift us with large amounts of fresh produce, mostly because they’re good, generous people and partially because they feel sorry for us knowing there’s no way in hell that anything scrumptious would survive an entire growing season on our property.

Ah, but Don’t Weep for Me, Arugula. I’ve got big plans for our 2021 garden. I’m thinking organic egg omelets, fragrant with fresh basil and oregano and graced with paper-thin slices of heirloom tomato. I’m letting our friends know of my goals so they can make sure to plump up their chickens and plant the herbs and tomatoes. Next year in our garden is going to be especially tasty!

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(or am I glad to see you?)

I’m so happy! Like deliriously giddy. Maybe it was those two Excedrin with caffeine I took to ward off the ennui of another 2020 day—let’s call those little pills a contributing factor. But actually, it’s the bulbs.

A little history about my road to unbridled joy. I have bulbs. Lots of them. I don’t know where they all came from, but every time I turned over a rock or raked some leaves out of the flower beds these bulbs would appear, bubbling out of the soil like, um, bubbles. Hyacinth, tulips, iris—gosh and golly, I don’t really know what they all are. Trust me: the fact that I unearthed a buttload of bulbs bears little correlation to the scant amount of flowers that actually appear in our garden during the growing season. Nevertheless, there they were, and picking them up brought the same kind of thrill I get when picking a dime off the sidewalk. Freebie! Charmed life! Yay!

I gathered them up with the idea of turning what was obviously random chaos into some semblance of conscious order which, in our yard, would be something of a giant breakthrough. I dutifully put them in a box covered with peat moss like a “how to store bulbs” Google search says to do and awaited prime autumn bulb-planting weather.

Which is now. So, fueled with high expectations and not a few milligrams of encapsulated caffeine I set out to create a bed for my bulbs. I dug a respectable trough some 5 feet long and 2 feet wide and a good 12 inches deep. I filled said trough with high-grade planting soil and a tad of organic compost and began to plant my bulbs according to the advice I got when Googling “how to plant bulbs.”

I took some of the fattest bulbs and stuck them in the ground a few inches deep and 8 inches apart. When the bed was completely planted, I still had scads of bulbs left over. What good are scads of unplanted bulbs? Answer: No good! So I went back and doubled the density, carefully planting another set of bulbs in between the first. Still, a plethora of bulbs remained. Yes, a plethora.

And then, inspiration struck. Screw conventional wisdom—when has that ever been real actual fun?

Answer: Rarely! I felt a deep and exhilarating urge to be undisciplined, unbridled, unchained!

Into the trough went all the bulbs, probably one hundred and fifty. I covered them with a couple of inches of soil and stood back feeling positively elated and free. Take that, 2020! You think you can turn everything upside down? Ha! I see the cluttered mess of your days and weeks and raise you a completely whacked out flower bed that defies common sense.

And what will spring reveal about my bodacious bed of bountiful bulbs? Who knows, but it will be something better than you, 2020, something much better than you.

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