The best thing about gardening in the Far North is that by this time of year (late February) you have no memory of what your garden looks like. You aren't even sure that it exists. This winter has been especially challenging to a gardener's belief that when the drifts melt something will take their place. Something colorful and fragrant. There will be flowers. There will be weeds. And plant-eating bugs. All of which will be welcome after so much snow. I'm not complaining, mind you. Snow keeps plants safe and warm. Plus, as a kid, only Christmas rivaled the first snowfall for the ecstasy it induced in my young and romantic heart, and old habits die hard. While I don't grab a sled or start digging a snow fort as I once did when the flakes reached critical mass, a good healthy blizzard takes me back in time to those glorious winters of my youth. Packing up and heading to Florida for the winter is unthinkable to me. And as I said, so is the notion that underneath all those drifts there is a garden. I will believe it when I see it. Rationally, of course, I know that I will see it. There is much empirical evidence pointing to the existence of a garden. There are photographs, some right here on this website, and there are videos. Speaking of which, I hope you'll check out the new ones I've added. As I get better at this, I can't resist tweaking. New to the site are a how-to featuring Ray Brush making a limestone path to my tool shed, a new version of a how-to about Japanese beetles that adds some other ghastly pests to the hit list, and an improved rendition of a video about how I deal with ugly power poles. Hey, it keeps me busy—and lends credibility to that popular theory that spring will come!
Can it be? I've never seen so much snow and it's only February 2. I tell my gardening friends who want the snow to melt right now, that they should stop complaining. Not only is snow cover a fabulous insulator for plants, but a sudden thaw is disastrous. That's only part of why I can't get enough of winter. Having grown up in the far north, I'm hard-wired to experience a shot of adrenaline at the first whiff of a snowstorm. I can literally smell it coming. My emotional brain goes right to childhood experiences that it equates with euphoria: strapping on skies and hitting the slopes, carving perfect angels in soft powder, and most of all building forts. I was a zealous fort-builder as a kid. The only building material better than the branches and sumac leaves I used during the summer months was snow. I never cared if the edifice lasted. It was the building process that I enjoyed. I was the same way about sand castles. I guess all kids are. We know going in that we're only in it for the short haul. Sometimes it bothers me that I tend to be impulsive and careless about the planning that makes things hold up over time. I'll built trellises out of cheap scrap lumber instead of expensive redwood if the pine is out in the garage and available and I have a new clematis looking for a home. For me gardening is the magic carpet that carries me right back to those forts, sandboxes and other creative venues entirely detached from time and money and being a grownup. The only thing better (well, maybe not better but just as good) is a giant blizzard. When I hear the school closings on the radio, I'm right back in fourth grade and busting at the seams with excitement.
You may remember the October 26 windstorm that crushed pine trees and split mature oaks right down the middle. The onslaught of sludge-like snow badly crippled a newcomer to my garden, a triple-trunked ‘Whitespire’ paper birch I’d planted late the previous fall. Whipped this way and that in the relentless gale, its longest branch slit open the crotch, leaving a foot-long gash. I was up on the roof administering to the tree while the winds were still roaring. With the assistance of a handy friend and a couple of step ladders, I managed to lash the downed limbs together with twine and bungee cords, force them into place with an amazing device called a come-along that multiplies by about a thousand your own strength when you need to pressure two halves of a split trunk into proper alignment, and drill two long screws through the trunk to keep it that way. Three metal clamps (the kind used in car engines to hold rubber hoses to metal tubes) were then screwed tight around the reconstituted trunk at five-inch intervals. What you want is for the tree to mend before the wound becomes infected and the arboreal version of gangrene sets in. I know it's a long shot, but looking outside and seeing the birch tree’s branches once again standing tall and proud, even if they’re only being held erect by clamps, screws and bungee cords, is a whole lot easier than looking at a sawed-off stump.
Haven't written since mid June. That's because the summer has flown by, what with readings and radio interviews (Remembering Smell), and gardening like a fiend. Whenever I'm not fielding phone calls I'm slipping out the back door and tiptoeing to the toolshed. I grab whatever tool is at the top of the pile and pick a project accordingly. If it's the lawn mower, I mow the lawn. If it's the spade, I dig. Since the spade's used most, it's most often at the top of the pile, a Catch 22 of my own devising. Digging means planting. Just this past weekend I reclaimed an old brick terrace that had sunken into the soil and sprouted a sleek carpet of thyme, which was kind of the point, except that the thyme wasn't supposed to obscure the terrace entirely. Up came the bricks and the excess thyme with them. I laid down an inch of pea gravel and replaced the bricks. A cute little birdbath was the crowning touch. But now the terrace cried out for a low fence so I built that out of cedar pickets. I even made a gate, then decided that the gate to nowhere needed a destination. That triggered an attack on some unsightly spireas, followed by trips to various nurseries to find replacement shrubs. I ended up with a row of five columnar arbs (Holmstrup) behind the fence and a pair of Blue Muffin vibs behind the arbs. BM is relatively compact with bright blue berries. Two dwarf Wentworths (red-orange berries) went in on a slope beside the terrace. Low gold-needled junipers were parked alongside a limestone stairway to stave off soil erosion. We'll see how that goes. My next goal is to embed some photos in the margin at right so you'll know what I'm talking about. Of course that requires learning how to embed photos. I'll get right on it!
June 18, 2010 is turning into one of those days—the kind that comes along, oh, once in a lifetime or so. That it's my birthday and there's a zero involved is the least of it. I wrote a book that's just out this week from a wonderful publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, called Remembering Smell: A Memoir of Losing—and Discovering—the Primal Sense that's getting kind reviews and enough media attention to satisfy everyone except my husband that the almost four-year-slog (writing and researching) from signing a contract to holding a copy of the finished book was worth it. Nothing would be worth a repeat of what prompted me to write the book—losing my sense of smell back in 2005 after shooting a cold remedy called Zicam up my nose. Big mistake.I have gardening to thank for my agent finding my story up to snuff. Or sniff. Whatever. Geez, how awful not to to be able to smell your own garden, she said when I made my pitch. Imagine also, though, not being able to smell your husband, your kids, your dog, your living room, breakfast, lunch, dinner, and in-between meal snacks. Imagine not enjoying coffee. No don't. It's too depressing.Please check out the book even if your smeller works just fine. It will improve your life in two ways:1) My post-doc-level mastery of biology and brain science gets passed on to you quite painlessly if you read my book.2) You will never take your sense of smell for granted again. In fact I can almost guarantee that my book will double the pleasure you take in simple, everyday acts like taking out the garbage and building a fire and walking your dog and. . . of course, gardening.
Caroline (my daughter and erstwhile employee) landed a job at an ultra hip ad shop called Fallon on the strength of, among other things, BGTV. I've lost my one and only employee in the midst of the busiest time in my pretty busy life. Caroline says she'll work weekends. We'll see.My new book gets published June 16. It's called Remembering Smell. Some magazines have hired me to write more on the topic. Two 2,000-word essays just this week. That's on top of my weekly garden column, the newsletter, blog, and party planning. The Tour de Scent kicks off July 1 at Tangletown Gardens, and will feature a self-guided fragrance tour, many smelly wines and cheeses, a smell IQ contest (winner takes home a gorgeous container arrangement), a reading and some consciousness raising re: smell. We'll take the Tour on the road to any public gardens, conservatories, etc, that will have us.The Splendid Table (American Public Radio) interview airs June 18. That's two days after my interview with NPR host Melissa Block (All Things Considered). Here's hoping I don't have a stroke and am unable to finish the interview, which could negatively impact book sales. Book launch is at 7:30 p.m., June 25 at Magers & Quinn Booksellers. Alcohol will flow.
What was I thinking? Drinking is more like it. White wine. Three glasses. So I approached the silent auction table at the VocalEssence fundraiser and bid on dinner with not one but two food critics, Rick Nelson and Dara Moscowitz-Grumdahl (she just took home another James Beard award), circling the table like a hawk until I was sure I'd snagged them. I suggested we dine at my house. In my garden. The big day arrived. Lynn Brush had scoured the forests for morels and produced a bushel or more. I forced Dara to come on Monday night (or the morels wouldn't keep) even though she'd been up all night with a sick infant, then forced an apron on her when she let it slip that she made awesome scrambled eggs. Yes, that was the entree. Scrambled eggs. With morels and their juices blended in at the last moment. By Dara. I'd promised a multi-course non-vegetarian meal (and to cook it) but chickened out when confronted with actual recipes. Dara's hand-picked wine remained in the fridge, untasted. Is there anything else I could have done wrong? Oh, I served a chocolate something for dessert. Rick brought a chocolate something else as a hostess gift. It too went into the fridge. On the plus side, the food was great. The weather was fine. The conversation. . . tense. But I've learned a valuable lesson. I will never attend a silent auction again. Or put myself up for bid, which I also did. Whoever won the garden consult and a subscription to the Garden Letter, will you please claim your prize?
If you've survived a book launch you'll understand. Writers tend to be over-sensitive people. I'm no exception to the rule. We are also over-confident when we're not plagued with self-loathing and doubt. This makes us hard to live with during the best of circumstances. These are not those. Two days ago I received some early decent reviews for Remembering Smell. After four years working on this book (and talking about it), the news that I would not have to emigrate to a foreign land where no one would ever find me, sent surges of adrenaline rocketing through my system. I emailed everyone whose email address happened to be handy to share my joy. Today I awake with a massive hangover, partly wine-induced but mostly brought on by my extreme personality. The pendulum has swung. Why do I do these things? Why can't I be chill? Where is the bed of hot coals I can walk on to rid me of the excruciating pain of. . .embarassment? And why do I always have to look up that word? Are there two "r"s?
This weekend I've been invited to sell my wares to customers who wait in line for hours to enter the annual Mother's Day weekend Friends School Plant Sale. It's the biggest sale of its kind on the planet, a colossal undertaking made more incredible given the size of the tiny Quaker school it supports. The event is housed in the giant grandstand building, beneath the concrete bleachers where mobs assemble to watch country western acts and hot cars during the actual State Fair. Yesterday was opening day. I set up my table below a huge shade tree in the garden fair area with other for-profit vendors who've agreed to share their profits with the school. This is where the only outdoor power outlet happens to be located, and just as the skies began to clear (it rained all afternoon) I decided to plug in the comptuer I'd brought along to show BGTV's latest videos. My daughter, who'd come along to help, sauntered into the building to find a restroom. She brought back the horrific news that all the lights had gone out. It was pitch black in there. I packed up and left before I could learn whether they ever did get the problem fixed so the sale could commence. It wasn't until this morning that I put two and two together. Had my power cord (I did notice tiny sparks when I plugged it in) set off this catastrophic power outage? The sale lasts through the weekend. I'm headed over with my truck once the rain stops (snow is in the forecast). Stay tuned.