New England Garden Notebook: April – May

We are in the midst of a year of milestones, most of which I would like to ignore. One welcome distraction is chronicling the progress of the garden. I am not an expert gardener (but am lucky to have friends that are) but found a few years back that once I planted a perennial that actually bloomed for a second season, I was hooked. What I love even more than the plants, sun and earth is the few minutes spent each morning with my husband as we look to see what has changed over the past day – new blooms, spots that need something more, what will bloom next.

As I sift through the photos of the last six weeks, I cannot help but think about the days on which I took them and the times during which I planted some things.

Nature bursts through the winter gloom, seeing red.
Nature bursts through the winter gloom, seeing red.

We were greeted by brash red tulips when we return from a trip over April vacation. It was a trip that alternated between doing fun things, seeing old friends, eating great food and being glued to screens as we watched in morbid fascination the events after the Boston Marathon Bombings. Looking at the red tulips at home, I remembered that it was after September 11, 2001, that I began gardening in earnest. It was a hot, dry, fall that year, as if the clouds had been chased away by the smoke from New York. IMG_4163I realized that I had spent those first years in our home inside with babies and toddlers and that now they were old enough that I could spent a few of our outdoor minutes – very few – away from the swing set and sandbox. As I planted bulbs that October – hoping against hope that the right end of them was pointing up – a neighbor strolled up and asked what I was doing. My answer surprised even me. I told him that everything I had done to make that house a home was on the inside.  After renting for so many years, I felt I had been holding back on the idea of putting down roots in this place. But September 11 had told me to embrace the life we have and the place we have chosen, however temporary. Planting bulbs was a way of taking ownership of this life and my role in it. The bulbs I planted that day? Red tulips.


Tulips are daring. They poke through when nothing else is willing to go first, and sometimes they betray us and don’t come back. All of the tulips planted by the previous owner are gone now, and the numbers of my own tulips (except the red ones) are already dwindling.

They remind me of Mr. Krabbs on Spongebob at this stage.
They remind me of Mr. Krabbs on Spongebob at this stage.

These pink ones go through phases when they bloom – they start out kind of hairy and menacing, the colors pale and cool like the light, and then suddenly they warm up and open joyously. Early spring is such an interesting combination of cold and barely warm, as if nature hasn’t quite adjusted the controls on the colors yet.

Then suddenly a sneak peek at summer color.
Then a sneak peek at summer color.

Crazy forsythia yellow and tulip red are set against barely discernible pink and blue hyacinths. These tulips, which take a long time to open, seem to follow the progress of color with the seasonal light, drawing the warm pigments up from the soil. I think of this image every year when we wake up one gray November morning to find that the bright autumn colors have been completely drained from the landscape. It’s like all of the pigments get sucked down into the earth until spring, when the color faucets slowly creak open and the colors bubble back up to the surface. It’s a story that might make a good picture book someday.

IMG_4309The creeping phlox (first lavender, then pink) and candy tuft are next, and I am glad to see they are making their way around the garden lamps and the tulips because I much prefer them to mulch as a backdrop. My goal is for the perennials and ground covers to fill in so completely that someday we will only need to mulch around the maple. Now that I think about that, it might spell an earlier demise for the tulips. I will have to look it up.

The peonies, astilbe, day lilies and irises start to fill in while the lazy hostas decide whether they are going to disappoint me again. Everyone in the world can grow so many hostas they have to dig the extras up and give them away, but not me. The hostas that do bother to return unfurl a leaf or two and then run out of steam. They are in league with the Pachysandra, I think, which continues to make pathetic showing. But this year the hostas look better than usual, and if they come through then I will post a photo. I won’t jinx it yet.SONY DSC

A good thing about daffodils, my friend T. pointed out, is that the leaves stay beautifully green long after the blooms are gone. No so for tulips, and one reason they don’t last is that we probably trim the droopy yellow leaves earlier than we should.

Then the Japanese maple shows its leaves and we know spring is truly here to stay. The garden sits where once there were two more trees lining the stone walk – a flowering pear and a paper birch. But even as they provided welcome shade in the summer, there wasn’t enough water or earth in this former gravel pit to sustain all three trees so we cut the other two down in favor of the maple, and it has thrived ever since, becoming a beloved tree that would make Joyce Kilmer proud. During winter storms we go out to shake any heavy snow or ice off its branches, sometimes in the middle of the night, we are so worried about losing it.


As the phlox peak and the tulips and daffodils fade, the azalea lights up such a bright orangey red that I think of it as a burning bush. SONY DSCSpringtime seems to often bring big moments (births, deaths, graduations) and I have many memories of sitting by the window, looking at the bush and trying to cull some kind of wisdom from the flowers. Now and then, a hummingbird pays a lighting quick visit, and that is always a good day.

Why Do I Care Where the Boston Marathon Bomber Is?

The media encampment at Devens, April 26, 2013

I’m not afraid of that boy. (Like Kevin Cullen of the Boston Globe, I don’t want to give his name any more visibility by typing it here.) I followed the news about him like most everyone else but when I heard that officials transferred him to a federal facility that I drive past every day (unknowingly, until now), it rankled me more than I expected. He’s just a kid. A wounded, misguided, dangerous, vulnerable criminal of a kid. And the cell in which he sits is walking distance from a school where kids like the one everyone thought he was study, work and play every day. One of my children is his age and she is only just beginning to understand what it means to be out in the world, away from family. He could have been at that school, with her. It is possible to imagine things like that now.

In my dreams I picture that boy walking through the woods from the school to his prison and wonder what could have happened along the way that turned him from an assimilated immigrant to a jihadi terrorist. Much as I despise him for what he did, I hope that we are not healing him in that medical prison just so that we can make a martyr of him by putting him to death. If there is no satisfying answer to why he destroyed lives (and there isn’t) then we cannot counterpoint his treachery with treachery of our own. Perhaps it is this near occasion of sin that nags at me.


And ironically, almost at the very moment he arrived, spring decided to come to this part of New England. In the last few days the leaves and the blooms have burst forth, scrambling to cover the gloomy gray and brown of late winter.

SONY DSCOn the morning of April 15, we spotted four fox kits romping outside their den behind out house. We have not seen them since. Last night we heard a fisher cat scream mercilessly outside the same window though which we viewed the foxes. We told ourselves over early coffee that the family must have moved on to larger, safer quarters. As I drove past the prison this morning, there was the CNN truck, lying in wait.  Tonight we will listen, hopeful, for the sound of young foxes, yapping in the dusk.

Note: The blue tee shirts in the header are from Life is Good, and all of the profits from the sale of the Boston shirts go to One Fund Boston.

A happy post script on May 1: The screaming continued and there were multiple voices in the conversation – an internet search turned up evidence that it was the foxes making the racket (it’s common, I guess, for them to mistaken for fishers when they are vocal in this way).

One Week Later: A Moment of Silence

I muted the tone so that that the people in the media - Governor Patrick in particular - dominate instead of the media.
I muted the tone so that that the people in the image – Governor Patrick in particular – dominate instead of the media banner.

Even for those of us who no longer live and work in the city, it has been a long, harrowing, surreal week. There is a lot to say about events of the last week, but I am too tired to say any of it right now. Silence might be what we need most of all.

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