I long for hydrangea days.
As much as I love living and gardening in South Florida, I can’t help but deeply miss the hydrangeas in my New York garden. I loved photographing them from their first green buds in spring to the fullness of color during their bloom time to the their faded glory in fall to winter’s dried-brown clusters.
“You spend an awful lot of time agonizing over leaves,” Joe, my partner, said to me the other day as we drove around the neighborhood. His statement was in response to my noticing that some homeowners had bagged their leaves in plastic bags while others had bagged them in recyclable brown paper bags, which the township now requires.
It’s been a week since a flock of grackles descended in the trees around my home and unleashed a hailstorm of acorns. I have since learned that acorns are one of the species’ culinary favorites, especially as the iridescent birds begin their migration south.
That being said, they aren’t very neat or efficient eaters. In fact, I don’t think the ’80s band A Flock of Seagulls could have caused this much of a mess in their hotel room, not even during the height of their popularity.
Seven days since their arrival — that’s seven days filled with more grackles, squirrels, and wind — the driveway and path looked as if they were the end-result of some slapstick comedy routine — you know, the one where an innocent passerby (me, for example) slips on some casually placed marbles (or acorns, as the case may be), so that the prankster (or grackle) can have a few laughs.
Hydrangea blooms fading away.
I stepped outside this morning and I could see my breath. Clearly, summer left the building — or at the very least, it left the garden. Almost immediately, I began singing Lana Del Rey’s smash, “Summertime Sadness” — or, rather, just the chorus: “I’ve got that summertime, summertime sadness, oh-oh-oh-oh-oh.”
I’ve actually been a little melancholy over the past few days. Maybe it was the 9/11 anniversary. Maybe it’s the start of another school year. And maybe it does have to do with the change in weather. While the cooler weather signals the time to clean and store terra cotta pots, elephant ears, and canna — as well as myself — for the winter months, there is something else on my mind.
The Great Heat of 2013 has come and gone, and there is joy and gladness throughout the land — and when I say land, I mean my garden. In fact, I think I can actually hear a collective sigh of relief coming from the plants (and maybe some of you) as more reasonable, seasonable summer temps return.
And when I look around the garden, it’s clear that some plants are still sporting nasty sunburns. Some of the hydrangea heads, for example, are tipped with brown.
But it’s the zinnias that garner all of my praise. I planted various kinds of zinnias this year — more than usual — because I knew that I would be unable to start my usual annuals from seed in the potting shed. I needed an easy seed — one that could be directly sown — and zinnias were the obvious choice.
And I’m so glad I did. As the temperatures rose, they stood tall and proud, empty of fear and full of color. I like to think they were the cheerleaders of the garden, encouraging the other plants to hold on. I’ll let their photos do the talking.
Which plants in your garden would you cheer for?
Joe and I live in the center of Long Island, give or take a mile. That means that our climate is usually a bit different from the rest of the Island. Autumn arrives sooner, spring a little bit later, and the cool ocean breezes just can’t reach us during the summer.
It also means that if we drive west, we can enjoy the sites, sounds, smells, and flavors of New York City and its boroughs — but for a more rural excursion, we can drive east to Long Island’s East End.
Green is the color of comfort, at least it is for me. It’s the color — whether it’s during a mid-winter trip to Florida or those early days of spring or those boiling days of summer — that holds me and comforts me, cradles me and soothes me. It’s as if green pulls me close and says, “I’m here. I’ve returned. I didn’t abandon you. Just breathe. . .”
I remember the day I first learned about the birds and the bees, which — surprise — really had nothing to do with birds and bees.
I was watching an afternoon rerun of “Marcus Welby, M.D.” with my mother, and the episode focused on a patient with an STD, only it was called VD at the time. My father walked in at that moment and asked if I knew what that meant.
“Um, yeah?” I said, unsure if the question mark at the end of my response gave me an air of authority or uncertainty.
And then came my father’s response, “Let’s go for a drive.” Uncertainty it was.
I am so distracted these days, and spring is to blame. There’s the smell of freshness on the breeze, the chirps and calls of birds in the morning, and the daily display of fifty shades of green. All I want to do is work in the yard: clean the beds, rake the lawn, bring out the terracotta pottery, inhale deeply — but I do have a day job that demands much of my time and a post to write.
Writing, though, is near impossible. Spring stimulates all of my senses, and each time I step outside, I am overwhelmed with words, feelings, and adjectives. Rather than write them down, they swirl inside my head as I become lost in the intoxicating world that is spring.
And so, I surrender to those who have already placed their words on paper, words that illustrate the beauty of the gardener’s most magical season.
What to do? It’s an early January day, one of those odd ones that’s wedged between cold fronts. On Long Island, that means it sort of feels like March, and there is an urge to bundle up and start spring cleaning — while the inner voice says, “Don’t be too quick. This is just a winter lull, and there will be icy temperatures at any moment.”
As if to serve as a reminder, there are the remnants of last night’s flurries (above) and autumn leaves encased in ice on top of the pool cover (below).