the rich and cheerful marigold, Obedience.
Naught's heard therein but angel hymns, with harp and lute,
trumpets loud and clarions bright and gentle, soothing flute"
--old folk song
For those of us who spend our days in idle intellectual pursuits, wondering,for example, if televangelists are a plague of locusts issued in retribution for some sin of heedless certainty, it's easy to develop a longing for a retreat to a garden locale.
I own books with names like "postage stamp gardens", all devoted to the idea that even if one has nothing more than a walk-up apartment in some dreary northeastern tenement building, one can nonetheless brighten up everything with a pansy here and a radish there. My thumb remains a hint of hunter's green amid a camouflage of brown only because I raise succulent plants, which are difficult for even me to kill. But I like the idea that everyone can find a space to make something beautiful, even in the most dank and cloudy conditions.
It's not that I am a reverse snob about such matters. I love to go to the Huntington Garden, in San Marino, California, where the cacti grow, adoringly cared for, in suitable barrel shapes and nearly pristine conditions. Flowers arise from these showpiece specimens, reds and yellows and sometimes purples. These expansive and well-ordered succulent plants simply amaze--a reminder of the dream of the West, of the way that things and people can thrive under harsh conditions with a little independence.
I always like that old Be Bop Deluxe song about how there are no trains to Heaven, for the Kingdom lies within. It's not a sentiment new to Mr. Bill Nelson, of course, because the idea long predates the London to York train schedule. But the idea that inside we each of us have the potential to connect with something divine and real--it's very important and heady stuff.
I think, though, that the discouraging thing about such spiritual quests is what I'll term the Home and Garden Television program problem. Let me digress for a moment to say that I am of two well-defined minds about this cable channel. When the channel features that portion called "Garden", I am a rapt watcher, as people show me flower species I do not know and hold forth on the beauties of well-turned mulch. I find that with many hobbies, I can watch or read, and it is about as good as participation.
Garden shows of all kinds have this effect on me. By contrast, the "home" portions always seem to me a bit trapped in either "gee, this is great free advertising for my interior design company" shows and "gee, if your grandfathers had oppressed workers for generations, you could put a brave face on meaninglessness and substance abuse in a mansion like this". I make an exception to the "no homes on the Home" channel rule for any shows featuring people living in yurts, trees, space age needles, hobbit caves or in stucco houses disguised as castles in Alsace-Lorraine.
The Home and Garden Television problem is that when one watches a program on the channel, all the perfect gardens and seamless makeovers don't really resemble the casual day to day fight of the ordinary soul. My life is not enlivened by whether a landscape designer can figure out a way to make our home
resemble the Tuilleries transported to Iowa (does anyone "get" the Tuilleries by the way? I certainly don't. Let something run wild, I say, and run wild soon). My life is instead dampened a bit by the quest for a tall-growing ornamental native tree.
In our front yard stand two wonderful little trees. They're a bit like the Christmas tree in the Peanuts Christmas special. One is called an Eve's Necklace. Eve's Necklace have a flowery wonder in Spring (the "necklace") and grow wonderfully in the scraggle-woods which alternate with grasslands to make north Texas so lovely. The other is called a Mexican Buckeye. The Mexican Buckeye makes gorgeous pinkish flowers, burnt-pink, like dogwood blood, just a bit.
Both our trees are reasonably healthy. One is roughly five feet tall and one is roughly four feet. The problem is that they rarely grow very much. The builder who built our little quarter-pounder-with-cheese neighborhood planted bradford pears for many of our neighbors. These Bradford pears grow like weeds, as they are, as if by design, things that grow and bloom mad, wonderful fruit trees that bloom in February, and then live out their twenty years, and make way for more Bradford pears. More astute neighbors have planted the sturdy live oak, which lives out unobtrusively in year-round leafy wonder, loved but rarely noticed by others, other than being beloved by those riotous clowns, the grackle birds.
So picture, if you will, Rod Serling style, a neighorhood filled with thickening trees grown tall, 12 or even 15 feet high. Only the hackberry and cottonwood trees the builder didn't pull down grow taller.
Then imagine the yard, with its two little "one gallon plants for 5 dollars" special trees, still less than 6 feet tall heading into their third Spring.
I think the life within sometimes feels like growing those shrimpy if wonderful trees. Everyone around seems to be working out where to place the gazebo, but I'm still stuck on keeping the Bermuda grass from the flower beds and wondering if I shouldn't have planted some kind of native hybrid caterpillar grass anyway.
But I posit that nobody feels like a luxurious garden inside, although a few people curiously imagine that they are much more fragrant than they truly are. But the key is not whether the Garden Clubs people run understand and approve of everything one is growing. The key is to keep watering, planting and pruning. I need to buy some more cactus and the hip fluorescent lights for my indoor plantings.