~o~ Elizabeth Lawrence, on gardening ~o~
(If you click on the quote above it will take you to another blog entry wherein I used this quote in 2009. If you searched through the blog you would likely find it other places. This little six word sentence by beloved gardener and writer, Elizabeth Lawrence, now passed but often referred to as The Garden Maven of the South, has been a guiding star in my life. I'm certain poor Elizabeth would turn in her grave if she saw what I did today, but it sure felt good...)
I feel duty bound to advise the sensitive reader to perhaps pass this piece by, or at least to cover your eyes during the more gruesome parts, and I advise NO ONE to ever follow any of the techniques or ne'er do well approach I irreverently take to gardening (and my writing and my life, and...) because it has not always served me completely well, but when it has it has been glorious. I cannot and will not be held responsible for those who lurch ahead with daring do only to come to disastrous results. Forewarned is forearmed. And my arms are sore from all the pruning I've just done...
The roses trembled when they saw me coming with very sharp pruners and a wild determination in my eyes, but, hard-hearted, I attacked them with the ferocity of a gardener gone mad in intense summer heat (Heat index was 110 degrees yesterday.) when the garden has turned into an overgrown tangled mess, barely a bloom seen on a rose anywhere because they just give up the ghost mid-summer here, and I'll be gosh-darned if I will see them dangling about all over the place looking pitiful yet sending out shoots to rival the plant in The Little Shop of Horrors. Nosirree, I was not going to have that, and it was a veritable blood bath out there today. It's perfectly fine when my beloved cottage garden is an overgrown tangle because it is a riot of color right now so thick with every color of the rainbow, well, it makes one positively swoon, but with bloom-less roses I will show no mercy. And they will thank me come autumn. Probably. Most likely. I hope.
I have planted at least 40 roses in my 3 summers here and if you don't have the nerve and fearless approach of Alexander the Great going into battle, you'd best stop with a reasonable number of roses, say five or less. I never to do anything the small way, meaning in reasonable amounts according to, well, everybody, and I put odd things all over the garden like old, somewhat rotting fireplace mantles nailed to the 6' tall privacy fence, not to mention flying fish, BIG flying fish, dangling from trees and swinging through the air, a million year old low white wicker table so heavy it took three men to get it into place with a very large, bright green, lopsided picture frame hung on the fence above it with heavy iron teacup planters all down the table. This is my "Mad Hatter's Tea Party" area and Alice would most certainly have been proud but then planting the 75 day lilies all around it and along the fence kind of got me distracted. I got them 25 for $25 from a wonderful day lily seller who specializes in these and has gorgeous and rare plants but the tags had come off quite a number hence selling them cheaply, untagged, but with the promise of many gorgeous varieties in the mixes. I couldn't be more thrilled. The tea party will come along but I've not yet put the kettle on, so to speak, with the day lilies and all.
I plant anything I care about with such abandon, over-planting as it were, that when things come up they are either so lush they take your breath away, or they scare the bejesus out of you. Today, having trembled with the bejesus run smack out of me for weeks now, I yelled "Once More Into The Breech," and as if shot out of a cannon attacked those poor roses so that the shrieking of plants losing limbs out there was, I admit, rather pitiful to hear. And it was so thick along the path as I went down a very long area with pruned branches tossed wildly over my shoulder that the pugs, whose areas I was pruning in happened to be some of their favorite, uhm, well, you know, places to take care of their business, that they ran as fast as their pudgy little bodies and short legs could take them in the other direction and looked horrified not to mention disgruntled. When the great pooping field has been savaged, I could hear them mumble, well it's all too much. You never know what in God's name she will do, but I mean really, there?" The best way to describe what it looks like out there -- I haven't gone out to rake up all the pruned material yet -- is, well, let me put it this way... If you ran all throughout a department store, you know, the old kind with countless floors, and ripped the arms and legs off of the mannequins and threw them over your shoulder as you went into the aisles where people walked, well, it would look like something out of a Stephen King movie and be a fairly inconvenient path to traverse, to say the least. Sometime later today I shall go out with the rake and clean it all up and toss it over my fence into my woods and let the wildlings make what they will with them. Everything gets recycled or composted here.
I am a very serious gardener and long experienced (in my own peculiar way), I have a garden library so vast book stores would be embarrassed at the paltry number of garden books their shelves carry. I have taken Master Classes in gardening and studied beautiful gardens and spent much time in the Arboretum studying plants. I scour every inch of my acre studying my favorite aspect of gardening, with which I have been successful these last 2 decades -- Micro Climate gardening. What this means is that while we live in a specific "zone" (this refers to the part of the country/world you live in, what the range of temps are year round, how long your seasons are, etc.), I'm in Zone 8 and near tropical conditions in Wilmington, NC. On any one piece of property there will actually be different growing conditions all throughout. Some areas are so shaded, so much cooler, that plants that you are warned will DEFINITELY not grow in your region might grow and some with wild abandon. For example, most right-thinking people here don't even try to grow poppies because we have mostly a long summer here with a tiny patches of Autumn/Winter/Spring and then we're full on into the warm and then HOT weather. I, however, adore poppies, and so I bought a pound of the seeds (that's tens of thousands, maybe more) and heavily scattered them, like the Whirling Dervish of Seeds, in every nook and cranny where there was the least bit of shade to heavily shaded areas and I swear to you the last of my poppies, though relatively few in number for the number of seeds I planted, just tickled the living daylights out of me. They were beautiful and a number of them even produced pods of seeds. He he he, I was like a little kid at Christmas.
In October I am going to order a couple of pounds of mixed poppy seeds from my favorite seed catalogs where you can buy in quantity and baby I'm going to plant like a mad woman escaped from having been confined in one of those places for too long (I'm allowed to say that because after a nervous breakdown I was in one of those places. I am not poking fun at anyone, just a bit of levity here folks.) and who hungered for her garden, who finally made it out and ran for miles scattering seeds everywhere. Well, I have just this acre, but it is well used.
I have more garden beds in the front with roses that I will chase down with the pruners later today. I have to do it soon before they get word from those in the back about the carnage that is taking place, but they are still too much in shock to say much to anybody. You've got to take a firm hand with a big garden. Theodore Roosevelt said,"Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far." I say, "Walk fast and carry big sharp pruners and whack 'em down before they know what hit 'em." I know this isn't exactly what Roosevelt meant, but you take my point. Anyway, that's what's going on in the garden today. After pruning they will be well fed and kept watered nicely and in autumn they will come back much happier with blooms in abundance. Don't grow roses if you can't take a firm hand, or if you can't be positively merciless when, midsummer, they've gone, so to speak, to Hell in a hand basket.
And then there's my writing.
Well, you see, this is a very exciting time for me. In a mentoring program with one of the writers I admire and whose work delights me no end, SARK (Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy), I am taking wonderful classes, there is an amazing support community, and if you are in the smaller group that I am in you actually send part of your writing to Susan once a month and within 2-3 weeks she send you back a 15 minute recorded response to the writing. I also now have "an accountability partner," wherein we stay in touch with one another, help and support in any way we can according to what the individual writer wants and needs, and then, of course, have someone to be accountable to to keep your writing going. This is so marvelous I am just beside myself.
Yesterday was the first time for me to send a writing sample to Susan. I had worked on and polished the Preface to the book I have been working on, off and on, for months. But then...
The night before I was to send in the writing we had a mind-bending, over the top exciting class as all of Susan's are, and, well, I just couldn't sleep. Finally the pugs and I went to bed but while they snored like little furry peanuts cast hither and yon over their big king-sized quilt that covers my covers, I lay in the dark with my eyes as big as dinner plates and my mind racing 40,000 miles a minute. I was beside myself, and trust me, when you've got 4 sleeping pugs settled and snoring you don't want to wake them up. I didn't know what to do but I knew that everything I'd written, from the way I was approaching it to the content itself was just wrong. Susan's class had burst a dam inside of me and torrential rains were washing away a whole history of writing (much of it repeating itself far too often, leitmotifs run wild) and, well, I just plain broke bad. Not wanting to wake the pugs, as I said, I reached over, gingerly, and grabbed my 6" square electric orange fat notebook and my bright purple, extra fine Sharpie permanent marker which are my current favorite pens to write with, and also a little flashlight, I slipped down under the covers and, like a school-girl staying up past her lights out time wrote by flashlight under the covers to the now muffled sounds of snoring pugs. I literally threw everything out I had written or ever thought to write, my whole past of clinging to notions and ideas about what I should write, and I wrote like mad to get everything down that I was thinking so that when I got up I could plunge into the deep water and swim like mad.
After I'd finally settled down I turned off the flashlight, put all of my various and sundry things on my night-stand, and, well, almost went to sleep. It took 2 more cycles of flashlight-under-the-covers writing to get a few other things down, but then I slept very well and then, yesterday, wrote like a racehorse just out of the gate after the gunshot all day long. In the middle of the afternoon men came to get some work done here and I know that I talked to them and that they got the work done but I've no clue what I said. I was in my head. I was hanging on for dear life as a current of words ran downstream so fast I was afraid to let go for fear I would drown, but finally, after several read-throughs and revisions, I filled out the form, attached the piece of writing, and, sheepishly, hit "Send Now." I got the confirmation letter that said Susan had received my writing and I would hear from her in 2-3 weeks. I nearly fainted. I was sprawled on the floor mumbling nonsense until the pugs walked all over me snorfling about and licking my face to bring me back to my senses. In this moment I can barely remember a word I wrote, but I was beaming with delight that I even had the nerve to do it. And it's no perfect piece of writing, it's rather raw in fact, and as of this morning I've already thought of different directions I want to take, but I can only do this because of what I did yesterday, and the magic of Susan is that it is her intuitive gut response to the overall piece that will help me move forward. Each time it will have shape-shifted. By next month I'll be miles down the path when I send her my next piece of writing, and DAMN, it feels good.
So then you stop and look around. You've just turned your writing on it's head, inside out and upside down, and ripped away everything familiar and know it's for the best. And then you go outside and, wildly whacking away make a blood-bath, so to speak, in the garden, but you know in the end it will all be for the good, and then, suddenly...
Well, over coffee this morning I realized/thought a number of things. I actually shocked myself. I moved into this house with such an accumulation of "things," so many things, things that I've had for years (decades?) and never been able to let go of, but suddenly I'm ready. And I was so overcome with excitement, plotting and planning what I was going to get rid of and how and why and how to proceed, and sketching out plans in my head for what will be a long process, maybe a year, maybe five, but I'm going to prune my whole house, my life, my writing. my garden, all of it. I have never felt so free in my life. I have never felt such a sense of relief. Some huge block in me has finally had some kind of metaphoric dynamite shoved into it and it has exploded into pieces all over the Universe. Everything that I possibly can I will give away or donate to those who need it. Just plain junk will be recycled or thrown away. Trust me, I will never live Zen spare, but far more so than I ever thought possible for me in this lifetime. One step at a time. Some days one teeny tiny step at a time. But if I can whack the living hoo ha out of all of those roses, if I can tear apart and throw out forty years of writing and start anew at 58 years old, by gosh and by golly I can keep right on going with the rest of my life. And I can and I am and it's about damn time.
Well, I'm just so full of myself I am feeling like one cheeky mama, but I am crashing from two days of not sleeping while my mind, pen, and pruners wildly raced through the beginning of this total transformation of my life and all that I hold dear. What's miffy has gone or is going. Now I will curl up on the couch under a pile of pugs and take a nap. And awake and refreshed I'm going to attack the roses in the front and then start in my studio. If I spend even 5 minutes or 15 or 30 each day, just think what I will have done in a week, in a month, in a year. EVERYTHING is doable, and Lawk 'a mussy, as we say in the south (sometimes, or at least women used to...) I am on my way!