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Tomorrow's garden

June 09, 2002|by Dorry Baird Norris

Wishful thinking. Seed catalogs. Graph paper. Compost piles. Herbs in two-inch pots. Bare-root roses through the mail. Dreams. Sometimes gardening seems to be all about tomorrow. Plan, plant and wait - gardening is an exercise in patience.

These were the thoughts that flitted through my mind as I dug up yet another patch of turf for a new herb garden. In the last 25 years I've overturned what seems like an acre of sod to gratify my pleasure in gardens that delight my senses. Plants that taste and smell - that soothe the ailments of mankind and please the eye, plants that have a story to tell. Right here 260 square feet of overturned turf awaits a blanket of mulch that will decay over the next 10 months. Next spring it will be plowed under. Over there in the corner a Bible-themed and Mother Mary-themed garden will come to life and in this long bed, outside my office window, plants for butterflies and hummingbirds will find a home.

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It must be admitted that this garden would be less about tomorrow if I could bring myself to buy big plants to quickly fill the background. Mature trees and shrubs would soon create a mature landscape. But why should I pay through the nose to get plants that someone else has enjoyed growing - where is the challenge?

Taking a breather my eyes wander around the yard and I am suddenly overwhelmed by unexpected pleasures. The heart of this miserly gardener beats a bit faster when it see volunteers from last year's garden popping up here and there. Somehow volunteer seedlings seem so hearty and secure - as if they're announcing "I loved it here last year so I'm back again."

Clusters of calendulas are mingling with some seedling Lobelia syphiliticas, harbinger of the glorious display of gold and blue to come a bit later in the year. And it does look as if the volunteer cleome will be pushing up amid the branches of the pink-flowered dog rose ready to bloom when the roses quit. There on the west side of the house a ruff of lime-green golden marjoram encircles the purple tinged stems of the biennial money plant whose deep magenta flowers make an ideal frame for the pink and lilac anemones just beyond.

Snow balls of candytuft, white and bright, illuminate the slowly emerging reddish stems of bee balm. The delicate and fragrant white clusters of Centranthus rubus (sometimes confused with the medically useful valerian), has finally taken hold and is a perfect complement for the delicate blooms of the elegant yellow flag. At this moment a tiny orange and black butterfly is delicately probing the Centranthus for a bit of nectar.

Close by in this partially shaded garden the tiny Iris cristata is flourishing. Its tiny white blooms demand that you creep about on your belly to catch their sweet scent. This native American plant looks perfect against the silver and green leaves and yellow blossoms of the thriving clumps of dead nettle. And where did that lovely golden mound of a dwarf snap dragon spring from? Is it the descendant of one of the plants that were here when we bought the house four years ago? Where has it been hiding?

The golden seal that survived the move from New York to Tennessee hidden in a pot of ajuga, suffered there for years and finally has found a hospitable place in which to flourish. It obviously likes woodchips and filtered shade. Close by, there's a late-blooming yellow primrose, the offspring of a housewarming present two homes ago. It is always my first signal of spring.

And how can I forget the hummingbird that enjoyed her breakfast at the rose pink Salvia gregii that miraculously survived the winter and now blooms in concert with the old, floriferous and fragrant "Zephirine Drouhin" rose that sprawls on the porch railing?

At the back of the lot the hand-carved blue heron from Tennessee stands perches regally above a stand of gloriously blooming old-fashioned purple iris that pour their grape scent over silver mounds of lamb's ears clustered nearby. The iris was a gift from one of the first people to attend one of my herb classes in Trumansburg. Each time it blooms I am reminded of her. Memories too at that far corner where the purple-and-rust-tinged iris' from my father's garden are finally blooming - content for the first time since it left New York State nine years ago. Four times these plants and I have put down roots only to be dug up to find a new future in another place.

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