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What We Keep

Garden seduction

Passionflowers
Garden catalogs come in the mail in the dead of winter, full of seductive, expensive things that you have to dig a hole for. Or that somebody does, my husband observes, looking over my shoulder as I contemplate a white rhododendron with a pink center, like a lace valentine. I am easily seduced by things like that, although I have learned that I am not a good gardener to plants that are fussy, as the rhododendrons that we already tried proved to be. Ranunculus, for instance, do not like it here; I don’t know why. I lose patience, ask them why they can’t be more like the iris, and if they don’t shape up, am not inclined to take them for therapy.

And then there is asparagus. Asparagus is a commitment, like getting married. You have to really mean it. An asparagus bed takes digging, and amending with much compost, and then you can’t even eat it for several years if you want it to get a good start. Asparagus is delayed gratification, a marriage to someone who will be overseas for the next three years.

Into the bargain, we always long for the things that won’t grow where we are. In California I spent much time babying honeysuckle along, and yearned for lilac, a lost cause because you have to dig it up and pack its roots in ice to make it bloom, and I am not that crazy. In Virginia there is so much lilac I am bored, and honeysuckle is something that eats your garage if you don’t whack it back with a machete every two days. On the other hand, bougainvillea, which actually did eat my garage in California, won’t take a freeze out here, and has to be grown in pots and then spitefully refuses to bloom the second year, sickening slowly with some kind of white flossy stuff on its branches until it succumbs and I am dumb enough to buy another hothouse pot from the nursery.

Lately I have been trying to get artichokes to grow, which while they make a lovely hedge in coastal California, out here is like trying to train your cat to do housework. They don’t like summer heat and they don’t like winter freezes. But my favorite nursery had them last year (the same one that sold me the bougainvillea) in their greenhouse, which unfortunately I don’t own. So of course I bought them anyway. We got two apricot-size artichokes from them before they wilted in July.

I am trying to decide that all this means. Am I just pig-headed and/or in denial about climate? Do I think I can convince them that it’s not really that cold in the winter, that a little 95 degree heat never hurt anyone? Is it a form of faith? Do I believe that if I try enough times there will be an Artichoke Miracle? I’m not sure.

I’m also not sure where I’ve put some things. I can find my car keys but probably not the agapanthus. This makes spring and summer a kind of revelation, a garden miracle on their own. Daffodils are reliable and spider lilies are out there somewhere. Maybe that’s enough.
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