Tag Archives: gardening

From the Land of Not-Quite

I live not-quite in a not-quite city, and it seems to suit me. All my life I’ve been not-quite sure who or what I wanted to be, so I have not-quite “arrived.” I was not-quite part of any group in school, and not-quite a great student – not-quite a rebel and not-quite an angel. Sometimes I feel like I’m not-quite even here. It’s a little like being almost a ghost – I sometimes feel like I can observe while unobserved, like the proverbial fly on the wall. But not-quite.

With people from all sides encouraging us all to “follow your passion,” and “do what you love,” I have not-quite been there or done that. And my problem seems to be that I’m not-quite sure which passion to follow – science or art, writing or painting, growing roses or building web sites. Let’s not forget reading. If I could kick back with a good book all day and make a living at it… heaven.

This past weekend I met someone you might call a guru of authentic living. Patti Digh is a writer/blogger that my friend, Tresha, has been following on line for some time. Tresha sent Patti some of her artwork, and one piece was published in one of Patti’s books – Four Word Self Help. Tresha gave me a copy of the book. Sunday, Patti Digh was going to be at a bookstore in Houston to chat and autograph her books, so Tresha asked me if I wanted to go.

Now Houston is not-quite on my list of favorite places to drive in my car on a warm day. My car is apparently going through menopause, and is prone to hot flashes – especially after I’ve been driving a while. So Tresha and I had to find a place where we could meet where I could leave my car – well away from the torture chamber that is the Houston freeway system. Did I mention that the air conditioner in my car doesn’t work? Yeah, that, too.

Anyway it’s a lot more fun to drive/ride into Houston with someone else, so we met in beautiful downtown Brenham, about an hour from where I live and two from Tresha’s home. And they have a handy public parking lot smack in the middle of the historic district – we sometimes meet there on a Saturday to eat lunch at “Must Be Heaven” and visit the funky little downtown shops.

But back to Patti Digh and why she’s in a piece about the “Land of Not-Quite.” I get the feeling she used to live here, too. Her 37 Days blog explains what happened in her life to cause her to want to leave the land of not-quite behind. She has since published books of collections of some of her blog entries along with contributions from some of her readers (like Tresha’s artwork). Her trip to Houston was part of a book tour for her latest book, What I Wish for You: Simple Wisdom for a Happy Life.

She greets everyone like an old friend, and so obviously is enjoying her life now, it’s hard not to wish for exactly the same thing. Except that nobody’s life is exactly like anybody else’s. None of us have exactly the same dreams or the same experiences in life that may have led us to live apart from those dreams. Let me tell you, not-quite achieving a dream is a hell of a place to be. Suppressing dreams to the point of losing all track of them is like some kind of psychic amputation, complete with phantom limb pain.

I’m struggling to reclaim my dreams, beginning with sorting through the dim storage areas in my mind to find which ones were the most precious and can still make me happy, and how I can rebuild the support structures to hold them up while I learn just how much I’m still capable of doing. For instance, the dream I shoved farthest back in the attic is a horse. I never got over my teenage crush on horses. I discovered that I’m not a natural-born rider, but I never got to spend enough time on horse-back to get good at it. On the other hand, I did get pretty good at falling off. The current condition of my back and various joints makes horse-back riding look like a bad idea.

And I’ve fallen in love with mules. They appeal to the basenji-lover in me. Mules are smarter than a lot of people give them credit for (as are basenjis), disinclined to follow orders that don’t make sense to them (ditto for basenjis), disinclined to let every little thing send them into a panic (as some horses are prone to do), and every bit as attractive. I could devote a whole blog to photos of mules and stories about them – if only I could get to the mules. When I went to the Texas Shootout last May, I felt like I’d found a little corner of heaven, but this year the event has been canceled due to the bad economy and high gas prices. I was planning to spend more than just the final day at the event, force myself to talk to more people, and hopefully get invited to a nearby farm to visit and take more pictures. Not going to happen.

I can’t travel far, especially in the warmer months, because of my menopausal car. It’s not as major a hardship for me as it could be for some people, because I’m quite happy to stay home and keep the Puppy company… and read. If I could make a living reading, that would be another dream come true. It might not be possible to get wealthy from it, but I’m working on learning to write great book reviews so that at least I may be able to get all my books free (and pre-publication) at some future date. I’ve already had several published at Story Circle Book Reviews. I don’t get paid, but I’ve already gotten a couple of free books.

For my third dream (and if I was talking to a magic genie, this would be my third wish), I would love to have a great big rose garden in my back yard. I have ideal conditions – a bald prairie where the roses could all get tons of direct sunlight and great air circulation. I would only grow roses that had won awards for fragrance, like Fragrant Cloud, Double Delight, Mister Lincoln, and that I could get enough blooms from to take some to sell at the weekly farmers market in Bryan. I would make little cards to go with the bouquets with the name and history of the rose, because I think that’s the best way to enjoy roses – knowing their personal histories.

So there it is. My recipe for a happy life. It may yet come about. I feel I may be moving from not-quite to almost.

Survivor: Central Texas

Spring's first rose

Some would call it a rose. I call it one tough hombre.

One of my Chrysler Imperial bushes put on it’s first bloom a few days ago, and I got a few pictures while it was at it’s peak. Some of the petal edges show a little burning — it was probably in the bud during our last cold snap and got a little frost bit. Still it has that gorgeous blue-red I’ve always seen on Chrysler Imperials, and it smells as good as it looks.

Both of my rose bushes made it through last year’s extreme drought conditions with very little help from me. At times they were completely leafless, but every time it rained a little, they would put out new growth. Then they endured the winter with no extra protection from the elements. A lot of people think that roses are too fussy to bother with. I used to think that, myself. That was before I learned that roses had names, like “Don Juan,” “Madame Plantier,” “Dublin Bay,” “Fragrant Cloud,” and, of course, “Chrysler Imperial.” For some reason, plants with names like that all of a sudden seemed worth whatever effort it would take to be able to have them co-habitate with me in my yard.

Madame Plantier and Don Juan were two of the first roses I fell in love with, through some gardening cards I subscribed to for several years in Kentucky. Finding those two roses in a local gardening center was a different matter, and eventually led me to on line searching, and the Antique Rose Emporium (ARE). Although I was still living in Kentucky at the time, I was able to order a Madame Plantier rose to plant in my front yard. In a few years  it grew into a big, spreading, wild-looking bush with attractive, small leaves, fewer than average thorns, and every spring would produce a huge crop of pinkish buds that opened into saucer-sized white flowers with a wonderful, old-fashioned fragrance. I miss her.

Since returning to central Texas, I’ve experimented with roses in containers. ARE has a list of some that are supposed to do well, but I suspect I didn’t have large enough containers, because after a couple of years they started dying. When I brought home the two Chrysler Imperials winter before last, I went out and got a couple of 32 gallon garbage cans, drilled a few holes in the bottoms, and planted them in those. Why don’t I just plant them in my yard, you ask? Because a few short inches below the surface it’s all concrete — heavy gray clay mixed with gravel of varying sizes. Hell to dig through, tends to repel water, which means the soil above it can stay soggy for weeks if we get a lot of rain. And one thing you learn about roses if you do any research at all is they need “well-drained” soil. They like a lot of water, but they hate wet feet.

The interesting thing about the roses ARE sells is that all their root stock were foundlings — cuttings gathered (or “rustled” — more on that later) from abandoned farmsteads and cemeteries, where they’d been thriving with no help from gardeners for years. And it seems that some time in the early eighties or thereabouts, some intrepid souls took to sneaking in to some of those places and snipping off bits of the plants, taking them home and growing them in their own gardens. The story of the Texas Rose Rustlers is colorful and entertaining, and unfortunately, they don’t tell it on their website any more. But their “Etiquette of the Rustle” page, and the “About” page at ARE contain some kernels of the story.

Now that it’s spring again, I’m thinking of expanding my garbage can garden, at least by one, so I can get another specimen of one of the first container roses I tried. She’s called Dame de Coeur, and is the most electric red and has the most knock-your-socks-off wonderful fragrance I’ve ever encountered. I love my Chrysler Imperials, and want another Mister Lincoln someday, too, but the “Queen of Hearts” is the next red on my list.

Mr. Lincoln. A rose by any other name…

…would be, well, a different rose.

My Mr. Lincoln is the only rose bush that survived last summer’s drought, and that, just barely. All of my roses are in containers. Mr. Lincoln was lucky enough to have the largest, which is probably what saved him. The other containers made it hard for me to find that balance between too much water and not enough, and the roses had been in them long enough that their roots didn’t have any wiggle room left. If I watered too close to one of the infrequent (but drenching) rains, their little feet stayed wet. Roses don’t like wet feets.  I should have moved them all into garbage cans.

But why don’t I just plant them in the yard? Several reasons. One, I don’t like digging in concrete — my yard might as well be a parking lot for all the decent top soil that’s in it. Two, I like having things where I can reach them without bending over a lot — I have a bad back. Three, it’s almost as bad to plant a rose in clay soil as in is to plant it in a swamp. Clay retains water — remember about the wet feets.

So I have two new Chrysler Imperials, planted in garbage cans with a mix of mulch, topsoil, and potting mix, and one has a bud. But Mr. Lincoln has given me my first two blooms already, and they smell divine! Too bad the fragrance doesn’t download onto the computer, but you can look at the pretty red color.

 

Mr. Lincoln 1

Mr. Lincoln 1

 

Mr. Lincoln 2

Mr. Lincoln 2

Flowers in my yard…this week

Some people call them weeds.  A lot of us call them “wildflowers.”  Those of us who live in more rural locations, where it doesn’t make sense to try and have a “lawn” of any size, usually see a lot of these whenever we get some rain, and are too lazy busy to mow.

I had to get out my field guide and look up the names of some of these, so I thought I’d get fancy and use the scientific name as the file name, and the common name for the caption.  So if you are the least bit interested in knowing the “official” name for any of these, just park your cursor on the picture and it will show up.

Texas paintbrush

Texas paintbrush

Showy primrose

Showy primrose

Dotted blue-eyed grass

Dotted blue-eyed grass

Wine cups

Wine cups

Texas toadflax

Texas toadflax

Weeds and old fences ask to be painted.

Weeds and old fences ask to be painted.