A Midsummer Garden’s Dream

Thunder grumbles in the distance as the darker sky approaches. More rain is coming, more manic wetness to quench the parched ground. Dimmer it gets as the wind begins to kick, then rest, then join with allied forces for a full-on offense. Best to wait this one out, hunker down and lull myself into fantastical daydreams.

Ah, yes, in my midsummer dream, in my wistful escape from the searing heat followed by the blinding storm, there’s none of this barbaric pelting, none of this furious, unhelpful, lashing-thrashing wind, none of the blazing, burning, unforgiving sunshine that preceded it. Only gentle rain falls, only kind rays shine.

In my fantasy, all the ambitious and infiltrating weeds get cropped out (I mean pulled up!) and the perfect ratio of rain and sun, day and night, cool and warm produces loads of spectacular lilies like this one that was smart enough, lucky enough, to have peaked between weather furies.

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In my imagination, there are dozens of prize-winning gourds (not just one) like this one that was clever enough to have climbed the fence and is curvingly perfect enough to stir feelings deep within…

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…and hungry enough to take all the nutrients it needs. Just ten days ago it hung a good deal higher.

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In the realm of garden perfection, in my visions of careful tending and consistent attention, the humans would take their minds off their silly porch project and clear out all these nasty, choking, unwanted grasses.

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They’d spent less time smacking tennis balls down the driveway for this young, endlessly tennis-ball-chasing, furry, golden, retrieving creature and more time making the rest of my expansive spaces resemble the reasonably well-kept row of rudbeckia. We’ll ignore those driveway weeds for the time being.

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(Now get the dog out of the way and show them how pretty a rudbeckia can be.)

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These daisy-like perennials are having a very respectable year, all except for this poor trampled thing at the end of the row. Looking on the sunny side, at least it’s not choked out!

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In my tender garden heart, all the gladiolas would be upright…

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…like this one…

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…instead of sadly horizontal like this one, a storm victim to be sure, though trying valiantly to show off its glorious blooms despite its precarious position.

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Lastly, if I had my druthers, I would make sure every growing thing in my dominion were as healthy, as vibrant, as unattacked, as simply lovely as this impatiens.

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I can dream, can’t I?

Oh My Gourd(s)!!

Every year the garden is different. Every year something or other does spectacularly well. This year, on a whim, I picked up some packets of gourd seeds. Never grew gourds before, but oh my! They went crazy!

I’m not sure what use gourds are – you can hollow them out to make birdhouses maybe? Wait for the seeds inside to dry and then shake them to make a rattling sound? Mostly they are just cool to look at. They are the punkers, the hipsters, the goths, the we-will-not-look-like-everyone-else garden produce (and so what if we’re not edible!?). With their own funky style, whether bi-colored, bumpy or (hey, it’s a stretch but someone might also think) sexily curvaceous, gourds are worth their salt just for the entertainment value.

Within the jungle of vines, here are a few of my beauties. I wonder why the yellow part of this kind is closer to the stem. I get that to some people the line between yellow and green might look like a stock report, but I see the profile of a mountain range.

This one takes the prize for Strength of Color and for Best Imitation of a UFO.

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This one, preferring the shade, wins Least Pretentious. The vines were so thick, it was tricky getting close enough for an up-close photo.

This one’s going for Bumpiest-Oh-Yeah!

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This one wants to be a child’s rattle when it grows up and dries out. A big child’s. It comes with a built-in handle.

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Going for the Audrey Hepburn waistline (though she’d never allow those hips!), this one has a sensuous streak.

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And finally – there’s one in every crowd – drum roll please! See if you can spot it from afar. I’ve labeled a few things to make it a little easier to find your way around.

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Well, this last gourd, the one I’m calling attention to, I know it’s there and I can barely see it myself in the big picture photo. So I won’t hold it against you if you can’t find it. Hint: Look carefully at the part of the gourd vines that decided to climb the fence, near that upper gourd arrow with the brown tarp tent in the background… How’s this for a beauty!!??

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I know, I know – takes First Prize, right?? You be the judge…

Inflatables, Ibises and a Swiss Cheese Plant

There are many things in this life that I will never understand. Blow-up lawn ornaments are one of them. Last week while in Lowe’s I could not help but see the selection for sale on the very high upper shelf in the – you got it – lawn care department.

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They have two dragons, one black cat looking evil (as evil as plastic can look), orange-rimmed eyes and something next to the purple dragon on the end that I cannot figure out. On another shelf they have a pumpkin carriage, a black spider (widow, no doubt), a haunted house and a green ghoula monster.

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The one that greets you – just imagine this in your neighbor’s front yard! – is this:

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Every town in America, sometimes every neighborhood, has at least one house with a variety of such “decorations.” It seems that Halloween is strongly vying for the #2 spot behind Christmas, when all manner of inflatable Santas, reindeer, snowmen, grinches, polar bears, nutcrackers, penguins and even nativity sets adorn front yards.

I have decided that I don’t have to understand or even appreciate everything. People have different eyes, different sensitivities, different preferences. Sometimes I go into a store and think: Who buys this stuff? But people do! And it’s not only what people buy. It’s the music they listen to, the foods they eat, the things that strike them as beautiful. It’s what they see, what they like, what they remember, what they want more of.

Some people will not look at Louisa’s gourds and think How beautiful! as I did when I saw them in August still hanging on their vine. Isn’t the shape magnificent? Traditionally, because a gourd’s shell will become as hard as wood, they have been used for bottles, dippers and musical instruments. People paint them, carve into them, display them. I am content and delighted to look at them hanging from a vine.

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Some people will think Coco, the little black pug I get to laugh at every day, is ugly. I did. For a long time. Curiously, I also thought she was cute. I’d say How can a dog be ugly and cute at the same time? But now I don’t think she’s ugly. She wiggled her way into my heart and now I think she’s beautiful. Yes, beautiful! And still cute. I call her Cutie Pie.

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You can put a bunch of pillows on top of her and she will still just look at you like What? Is there a problem here?

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See her in there? She doesn’t care!

You can put her on the rooftop of the chicken coop’s brooding box and she will not care!

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There are a lot of things that strike me that someone else might walk right by. I am drawn to form, pattern, color, character, authenticity and uniqueness with a curiosity that I suspect will never quite be satisfied. Last week this MO was confirmed in Galveston, Texas, at a place called Moody Gardens. Their “rainforest” is a bit imposing from the outside – a tall, glass pyramid amid lots of palm trees (this is not Virginia!).

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Inside I marveled at the patterning on this fish’s back. Do you think every one of its species has a different “fingerprint”? It’s like a maze, like the corn mazes people walk through or the ones in activity books that challenge you to get from Point A to Point B. Do you suppose there’s a way through this one?

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I don’t know what these birds are called, but there they were, right in front of us, looking as perfect as if they had been manufactured in a factory according to detailed specs.

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The shape of the one that sat so still, its distinct all-black and all-white sections so crisply divided, its unblinking eye with no shadowing, no lash, no imperfections – she’s amazing, but she doesn’t know it.

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The gorgeous color of these scarlet ibises is like something off an artist’s palette. What do you even call that color? To me, scarlet isn’t the word you want. But the birds don’t care what you call them.

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They freely walk around, seemingly oblivious to the humans observing their skinny legs, their outstanding posture, their disproportionate beaks. Why do those beaks have to be so long? Perhaps their food lives deep in the mud at the bottom of the pond?

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I have to admit that the color of the palm viper is extraordinary, but I did not stare at it for long. The coils, the gleam, the idea of what it is capable of sent me on my way even though it is behind glass. I think people must be innately repulsed for good reason!

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Onward!

I do not want to be the one who feeds the mantas, but it was quite something to watch! The man who does this has been feeding them for five years! His hand is inside the glass.

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How amazing is the patterning of this branch of the “rain tree”? It grows that way without any help from a computer program! Notice though that it’s not perfect. Some leaves are missing. If a person made this, or a program constructed it, you can bet that all the leaves would be there.

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Seen from below, with the sunlight framing it, this branch is to me even more amazing.

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The Split Leaf Philodendron or “Swiss Cheese Plant” is just plain funny! What reason could there be for the naturally-occurring holes in the leaves? To get more light to the leaves below it?

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On the sign in the lobby at Moody Gardens is a Kenyan proverb that says: Treat the earth well. It was not given to you by your parents. It was loaned to you by your children.

To me this says more broadly: Keep your perspective. Be careful. Pay attention.

It gets me thinking about what an incredibly diverse and fascinating world we live in. All too often we get caught up in the everyday issues – bills to pay, things that break down, people who disappoint us. We forget to take notice of the miracles all around us all the time. Without our usually noticing it, there’s beauty: someone’s smile, the color of flowers, the rays of sun making speckled shadows. There’s growth: we don’t struggle quite as much with something as we used to, our work yields more satisfaction, our cooking is more delicious than ever! And there are simple and complex systems in every corner of our world that actually, consistently work! The lights go on when we flip the switch, fresh and wonderful food from around the globe is available in our stores, the mail arrives! Much as I will never understand it, even the inflatables in people’s front yards at Halloween and Christmas give (some) people something to smile about.

Besides all this and a thousand other things, there are plants in the world that look like swiss cheese! Just for fun maybe?

Take a moment today to look around and think about what you normally take for granted. You don’t need to make a list (though mine is very long!) but I think if we all spent a bit more time being grateful for what we have instead of lamenting what we don’t have, if we celebrated the good instead of bemoaning the bad, if we channeled our energies toward gratitude and service instead of anger and greed, think what the world would be.