Wednesday, April 7, 2010

On loss and renewal

Well, as I hinted last week, I had an epiphany of sorts when considering what to do about the plantings in my front garden now that the hardscaping is behind me. Partly, I was thinking about how nicely the spring star flower has naturalized in the back garden:

But I was also thinking about how tired and overgrown some of the front garden was starting to look, as in this unkempt, winter-damaged troika of mule-ear prickly pear, Costa Rica yucca, and purple sage:

And, not coincidentally, I was reminded of a comment my neighbor Jorge had made about needing to divide his day lilies soon...

So it struck me (perhaps not surprisingly, considering it in retrospect) that it was not only time to 1) wipe the slate clean and start over in the front, planting-wise, (and nature certainly stepped in this winter and started that process with the ice storm) but that 2) it was possible to re-populate the garden entirely with divisions and transplants from the backyard and pass-along plants from friends and neighbors. In fact, the more I thought about it, the more it felt like an interesting challenge to give myself.

Nature does this sort of thing all the time, if you think about it. Fires, hurricanes, tornadoes, drought: to us they are "disasters," but in the natural world, they are simply parts of a complete engine. Nature, in fact, is in a constant state of loss, from which rises renewal, from what is already there, lying in wait.

It is what Mary Oliver calls, in her poem, "In Blackwater Woods," "the black river of loss/whose other side/is salvation".

(Note to my students: above is one of the rare occasions in which you would place the period outside the quotation mark.)

And thus it came to pass that I accepted the challenge. I would clear out what was past its prime, and I would re-populate with what was at hand. So I spent the long Easter weekend doing just that: carefully removing the gargantuan mule ear, transplanting plants from the back garden, taking divisions from prickly pears and creating two new "pods" of cactus, and last but not least, calling on friends and neighbors for some pass-alongs. I got Mexican feather grass from Kurt, daylilies from Jorge, and violets, oxalis, sedum, and rudbeckia from Cheryl (shown here on the patio during her lunch hour, sharing a picnic lunch of take-out from Bigham's Smokehouse Barbeque):

Later this summer, after they've finished blooming, I'l transplant some divisions from the spring star flower.

The front is looking a little spare right now, as you can see in this "after" of the removal of the mule ear cactus:
It doesn't show up well in this photo, but there is now a Russian sage in the mule-ear's old spot, the purple sage has been limbed up to encourage it to grow into a small tree, and fresh pads from the old mule ear are now in a new spot, as seen in the upper left corner.

Here is a slightly more promising photo of the ruins bed:

But that's the way it always happens in the real world after a good housecleaning. Besides, I am a Llanera--a plainswoman--and I am plenty comfortable with lots of open space. Open space breeds patience.

Finally, on loss and renewal: I would like to note the passing of Wilma Mankiller, first female chief of a major Indian tribe, the Cherokee. She was a blessing to this world. We could all learn from her example of what one person can do when she takes it in her mind to work for community.

In her honor, here are the closing lines from Mary Oliver's poem:

To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.


  1. I think it all looks quite spiffed up. Spring is a time of renewal, and what better time to re-do an area. I love that starflower. Am growing it for the first time this year.

  2. Good luck in repopulating your garden I am sure it will come back better than ever through friendly division and sharing

  3. Great job! that's gonna look wonderful. What a lovely post and tribute.

  4. What a great idea! It will be fun to watch how things grow. I've found it so surprising -- some plants shoot up, others lag behind (putting roots down, I hope). Let me know if you want more feathergrass, I'm pulling seedlings by the dozens daily, an unfortunate choice for our climate that the previous owner made.

  5. I, too, have looked at the losses (not only from the big freeze but two years of drought) as motivation to start anew--rather than patch and replace. It's very invigorating once one commits to the idea.

  6. I love that you used the word "troika" in a post, and I enjoyed the poem at the end.


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