Letters Politics, in classroom and locker room
Periscope Garden party
Ad Lib Feeling of "terror"
Circle of friends
When it comes to gardening, I’m no bigot: some of my best friends are weeds.
First come the wild violets that blanket my garden beds each spring. Unlike the demure little clumps in Skidmore’s North Woods, these make a profuse, almost aggressive, but beautiful ground cover. They choke out virtually every undesirable, so weed-pulling is a rare and easy chore. Another favorite is the pinky-purple biennial wild cress called dame’s rocket. I love both the name and the flowers’ light, sweet fragrance. As for my milkweed, when its runners invade my lawn and undermine my delphiniums each spring, I kick myself for having planted it; but each midsummer, when its elaborate flower clusters radiate clove and honey scents, and buzz with all manner of bees and beetles, I rejoice anew. There’s a vulgarity about milkweed—ungainly tall spikes bearing blooms of pink-lipped tubes massed together in a big ball—that provides a nice encore to the voluptuous, heavy-bosomed peonies of late spring.
My gardens also contain plenty of cultivated, hybridized specimens that nobody could call weeds. Among the most fun to greet each year are the plants that came as gifts or swaps from other gardeners. My peonies all began as dense, mangled hunks of tuber chopped from my mother’s gardens over the years. A doughty little pulmonaria—staying nearly evergreen through the winter and then blooming very early in the spring—was a recent gift from Ruth Wilson, who was Skidmore’s first lady in the 1960s. She says the ur-plant came from her president’s-house garden in Saratoga, and she’s been sharing chunks of it around the country for forty years. A chocolate-maroon single-flowered hollyhock was a house-warming gift from Scope’s previous class-notes editor Susan Geary ’99. A dwarf iris with rich burgundy blooms came from the former Scope associate editor, and a blowsy crimson bergamot from her successor.
For me the joy of gardening is also the zen of gardening—the process, not just the product. Relying on only a few tools and no noise (no roaring of small engines, no blaring of radios or recordings), I’ve become an expert putterer, peat-moss schlepper, dirt grubber, twig pruner, chicken-wire twister, and twine tier. I water my compost pile.
I deadhead my cosmos and coreopsis. I fill my bird bath for the catbirds who live in my redtwig-dogwood hedges—which I prune, and later prune again, after the birds have eaten their fill of its berries. Unhurried, I meander and peruse, checking who’s newly sprouting, who’s budding, who’s harboring too many aphids.
One practice I avoid is relocating plants in an effort to compose the perfect patterns or juxtapositions. For one thing, ox-eye daisies and forget-me-nots scatter their seeds with shameless abandon, so they could pop up anywhere next spring. And I like it that way. They mingle sociably with their sessile compatriots—the big thorny rugosa rose, the spiky irises and lilies, the clematis tangled over the fence. I value the certainty and routine of finding the resprouters in situ exactly as much as I value the novelty of finding the seed-scatterers in unexpected places.
As host of this eclectic and leisurely garden party, I enjoy keeping a hospitable eye on which guests are where, how they’re getting along with each other, when they’ll need a fresh drink… Keeping my leafy guests content is a small price to pay for sharing their delightful company during the all-too-brief Northeast growing season. —SR