Tag Archives: viburnum

The grump showed up with snowballs.

From the ascent with our Savior through Holy Week, through the Crucifixion, to the peak of Paschal joy – from there the only direction for the emotions is down. The sun went away right after the high holy days, also, and the thermometer dropped as fast as our mood.

But we came to the second Tuesday after Pascha nevertheless, the day when I always love to go to one cemetery after another with my snowball (viburnum) flower petals and sing “Christ is risen” along with varying numbers of other Orthodox who keep this tradition around here. And today I thought I might just go to the first one on the route, where my husband is buried. It was another cloudy and cold morning, and for reasons I probably don’t even know the half of, I just wanted to stay in bed.

One reason I came after all was that this year, finally, we were invited in writing, in the bulletin or in an email or both, to bring a picnic and to eat together at the third cemetery when we had completed our rounds of the graves and prayers. I had planned what I would cook this morning and bring, and I didn’t want to miss being able to hang around the cemetery longer. (Is there an “afterglow” among the graves? Oh, yes!) Though I did wonder, “Why this year, for a picnic? This is not picnic weather!!” I looked at the forecast and they did say the sun might come out by noon…. Please, Lord!

It’s pathetic how long I argued with the day and with myself. I got up late, but in time to cook sausages and load a basket with bread and butter. In the garden I cut a bagful of snowballs and remembered to bring in some fresh little flowers for the icon that essentially shows the Incarnation of the One who has destroyed death by death. I was humming the resurrectional verses about that as I went about my work, and all these activities showed me that I was indeed alive, and not even half crippled.

Last week I read Earthly Possessions by Anne Tyler, which a friend had recommended and lent to me. You might say it’s about half-crippled, dysfunctional and alienated people. It reminded me of Flannery O’Connor except that the characters weren’t real or strange enough to convey their lostness. On the other hand, there was no hope of their finding or being found by God. Descriptions of scenes or people always included details of ugliness or brokenness, but never beauty on any level, outer or inner.

I thought a lot about the novel at the cemeteries today. The narrator Charlotte would have found lots of tackiness to describe, had she been with us. The old parts of the cemeteries are not kept up. I found pictures just now that I had taken of these resting places in the past, including the most neglected one, where Nina is buried.

Five years ago she sat in her wheelchair at the concrete curb that surrounds the graves of her husband and son while we were singing. Now her dear body has been in the ground next to them for three years, and the plastic flowers hanging on her makeshift grave marker have lost all their beauty. Some artificial flowers are truly lovely, but please! If you decorate a grave with them, don’t expect them to live forever.

When I was on my way to the third cemetery, the sun came out!

Below is another scene from five years ago: the rockrose at Father D’s grave in its glory. He founded a monastery in our town, and the nuns who live there always like to visit this spot in particular. Now the bush is quite dead, and I wonder if anyone will replace it….

I saw many things that Tyler’s Charlotte would not have told you about: poppies, and beautiful children, and  elderly people who came hobbling with their walkers and canes and patience to sing to the departed, those we know are included in that company of whom we are told, in St. Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians:

“But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.

For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.”

What a mystery! We know so little about those who have passed from this life. We entrust them to God, and we don’t stop loving them… I shared my bag of blossoms with the children in our group, some of whom are newly baptized and had never been to a cemetery before. I told them it was okay to scatter the petals on any of the graves; we may not know the souls who sleep there, but we can still honor them.

The little guy on the left is five years older than when I took this picture on a Radonitsa in the past, and today he was one of the children who helped toss white petals and red eggshells on the graves. Those decorations look very pretty together, by the way.

We enjoyed our picnic. I remembered the butter but forgot my loaf of bread on the kitchen counter. Several people had contributed to the feast that it turned out to be. It seems likely that from now on we will keep this tradition, and I will plan to bring chairs or a waterproof picnic cloth so more people can sit around longer. But our priest and deacon didn’t linger; they were headed to two more cemeteries!

I came home via the paint store, where I picked up several color swatches to help me with my remodeling. My inadequacy in the realms of color and design is probably one of the things getting me down lately. The man at the store said that if I bring in a flooring sample they can tell me what paint colors look good with it. That was very encouraging, but I still brought home a few paint colors to help me at the flooring store. Don’t worry – I know all of these don’t go together!

It’s easier for me in the garden; there, if the tones clash, you can remove a plant much more easily than repainting a whole room. My husband used to claim that all the colors of flowers look good with all the other colors. I don’t agree, so I guess I am not entirely lacking in color confidence.

Two of the blues that I like are called World Peace and Sacrifice. (Seems like that could be the beginning of a poem.) I don’t understand how it is that one of them supposedly complements the rust color named Copper Creek but the other one doesn’t. That’s just one of the things I’ll ask the nice man at the Kelly-Moore store next week.

When I finally came home I saw an article in my blog feed: “Ninety Percent of Orthodoxy is Just Showing Up.” That was very timely for me; I realized that blessing the graves required me showing up there at the cemetery. My mood didn’t matter at all, and I’m sure it would not have improved by not going. But tomorrow my plan is to stay home and do only homey things. I won’t argue with myself about that!

Snowball and I have a glorious history.

While I was hiding my splotchy face from public, I pruned my snowball bush. This tree is one of only two plants that remain on the property from when we bought our house in 1990. I enjoyed doing a sort of pictorial historical study as part of composing this post, and will share some pictures from the last ten years, for my own nostalgic reference, I suppose.

This viburnum had not been dealt with thoroughly for a long time! As I squeezed between it and the fence, and maneuvered my loppers between the branches here and there, I recalled similar intimate springtime engagements through the years. We have a long history, Snowball and I, of me trimming and grooming, and him responding ten months later by adorning my garden with a glorious display. I’ve even been given flowers with which to decorate graves at appropriate times.

It took several hours over two days to do a thorough job of thinning the branches evenly, and shortening the whole enough that I can manage it more easily in the future. Now it’s so thin it was hard to get a good picture. I must have removed 80% of the plant mass; the piles of clippings all over the place attest to that. But I bet the flowers will be bigger next year!

I think Alejandro my sometimes landscaper/garden worker will come soon to remove the offending spurge after all, and he should have time to help me clean up the prunings. I don’t mind doing that, either, but I also have books to read and meals to cook and walks to take… I’m satisfied that I was able to do the pruning itself, in a way I don’t think anyone but me has ever done it in the past or would be willing to do it ever. I count myself the most blessed of women to have time and strength, and a garden to work in, where in the back  corner lives an enduring snowball bush!

Taking toxins with my joys.

Gardening has been  challenge of late, what with miserable weather, a sprained finger, and now the toxic latex sap of my euphorbia, or spurge.

I had a wonderfully satisfying day yesterday – went swimming, planted my vegetables, and then trimmed back the lovely euphorbia that had been flowing all over the wall in my front garden. I had done this job at least twice before, but the volume of plant material that I was removing this time was so much more than in previous years — in line with the saying about new landscaping: The first year it sleeps, the second year it creeps, and the third year it LEAPS! The picture below is from about a month ago, before my spurge had completed the leap, when it was just starting to spill prettily over the wall.

As I cut the spent flower stems last night I noticed the flowing sap, and it reminded me of Elmer’s glue, white and sticky, as it dripped on my shoes and hands. I had a splint bandaged to my sprained right forefinger to keep me from using it, and the bandage got wet with euphorbia juice. When I dumped clippings from my trug into the yard waste bin little flowers and leaves stayed behind, stuck with the glue.

After I finished the job and spent a long time getting the stuff off my hands, I took a little walk just to loosen up the kinks from stooping over my garden tasks. I climbed into bed so pleased at my productive day.

This morning early I became aware of a rash on my left hand, then on my forearms, then my right hand…my face…eventually my neck. My tongue burned. A thought began to rise to the surface of my messy pond of a mind: Hey, did I hear that this plant is poisonous? Ahem, yes, Gretchen, you did!!

Dave of Dave’s Garden doesn’t think these plants are much to worry about, compared to poison oak, for example. But The Guardian says that one berry if ingested can kill a child. Wikipedia tells us that the genus Euphorbia has about 2,000 members. You probably knew that poinsettia is a member? And maybe you heard the urban legend from 1919 ! that a child died after eating a poinsettia leaf. But the Christmas plant is only mildly toxic, after all, and a child would have to eat about 500 leaves to suffer for it.

Why I didn’t suffer until this third time is probably because of several factors: I wasn’t wearing gloves — though I was wearing long sleeves, so I don’t understand about my forearms being so affected. I’m pretty sure I cut the old stems off in a greener, wetter stage than before, so maybe the sap was more and more potent. Then there was the sheer quantity of plant matter being carried here and there, dumped, swept up…

I took a Benadryl, I applied hydrocortisone and aloe vera. I haven’t felt up to going anywhere, distracted and stressed as all this reaction has made me. But I wasn’t incapacitated, either, so I decided to tackle the snowball bush. I had thought for months that I would hire someone to prune it as soon as the flowers faded, but recently I decided to Do It Myself, because you know, if you want a job done right…? I’ve had two different “gardeners” botch jobs in the last couple of years, while I, on the other hand, have pruned the snowball bush many times over the last three decades. Though admittedly never at the age I am now.

Below you can see the bush,  beyond everything else, the left side short, the right side thinned but not short yet. And you can see the purple Pride of Madeira or echium having filled out, a few of my prunings in a pile, and the Jerusalem Sage blooming yellow..

I worked at it a couple of hours, never needing a ladder, and I am about 80% done — with the pruning. Getting all of the discards into the yard waste bin will take a few weeks, I’m pretty sure.

It made me so happy to be doing my own gardening. I was smack dab next to the currant with its big leaves that smell so good. The snowball bush (viburnum) hadn’t been pruned for a few years, so it had gotten out of hand. My plan is to get it down to a manageable size and prune it every year, and then it will be a breeze!

Tonight I’ll go to bed joyful again.

Water music for workers and for hospitality.

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plum

Last week I felt such relief from having a load lifted from my mind, I was immediately energized to prune the plum trees. These are the Elephant Heart plums that I had to buy two of after all. You might remember that I polled the neighbors to see if anyone had a Santa Rosa plum or an Elephant Heart to be the pollinator for mine. Several did, but then I found out that the helper tree would have to be within 50-100 feet of whatever I planted in my space. That is, next door. Which they weren’t.

A pruned tree might not be a lovely thing if it were not demonstrating a great success to the pruner, that of surmounting my fears and inadequacies and ignorance and getting it accomplished. Landscape Lady had given me some tips, and then I rgl P1030363 pruned plumead quite a bit online and printed off some pictures and advice about how many inches between scaffold branches and what percentage of the length of the branch to cut off, etc. — things I don’t already know from pruning ornamentals.

The relief I felt was over the completion of my fountain project. This was another story that was in process when I thought it was done, because the first fountain was found to be defective. The finish peeled off in big flakes before it had been here two months. The tasks of getting my money back and getting it taken away was hard enough, and then the shopping for a new one… I needed the help of two friends two days in a row to find what I wanted, and praise the Lord it was one I could buy right there, and have it set up within a few days. gl P1030392 hospitality

Now we garden workers and garden sitters can enjoy the accompaniment of the fountain song again. And I think I like this new one better than the first. I learned that the pineapple is a symbol of hospitality, which made me happy, because I want my new garden to be a place where I can be hospitable to my friends, both human and animal. If you look closely you can see the bell of bird seed on a pole in the distance behind the fountain, a gift to the birds from Kit.

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Kit is also pruning, the wisteria, right at this moment while the warm air and the water music come in the open windows to where I am typing. I told her to prune it hard, that she couldn’t kill it, and she climbed up on the arbor and has given it a drastic haircut. Maybe the towhees won’t think us very hospitable for taking away a nice platform for their nests.

 

The last few days have been downright balmy. So when I finished pruning I did more things, like planting a succulent and a thyme plant, and weeding in the front yard. And taking pictures of buds.

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I dearly love the viburnum buds that come out the end of January, two-by-two along their gracefully curving stems. Even the dwarf pomegranate bushes have buds, which I was not sure about when I first saw them last week. I bent down to trim the ends of the tangly branches, and saw red dots that looked like mites, they were so tiny and bright; now they are easier to recognize for what they are, bold upspringings of pomegranate life. I have to use my hand as a background in order to get the camera to focus.gl P1030378 pom buds

This season when sprouts come up and out of everywhere — I never can get used to it! I will have to write about it every year.

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This week I made another bold move: to phone the “Oriental Gardener” who leaves flyers around the neighborhood from time to time advertising his services. I got a bid from him for pruning the osmanthus at the front of the house. It has dead wood from drought damage, and needs to be reduced in size. He will do it tomorrow, so I took a Before picture this afternoon.

 

 

 

Housemate Susan told me that she used some kale from the front yard recently, and that pleased me very much, because I have not eaten one leaf of all the greens I planted last fall. While I was waiting for the Oriental Gardener to come by I picked my own bowlful of collards and Swiss chard and am looking forward to a good mess of greens real soon.

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