Monday, October 1, 2012

gardenia essentials

Getting ready for fall rains is always a major focus of my late summer gardening. For me, these rains mark the end of one gardening year and the beginning of the next, as spring-like ('fring' as I insist on calling it) growth will begin as soon as the ground is thoroughly wet. Narcissi and freesias will sprout before Thanksgiving; calla lilies will stand tall before Christmas, and I will watch my step -- staying on the paths to tend seedlings and pull weeds while naturalized bulbs and corms put on their shows.

During the final weeks of dryness, however, I can thrash around in the thickly mulched flower beds with impunity, shaping and pruning hardy perennials without damaging anything underground. Thus I wallow in the narcissus bed to give the gardenias their surgical makeover.

We have three gardenia bushes in a gently curved row, marking the wide line where a largish triangular bed, devoted otherwise to cacti and succulents, gives way to narcissi and sweet violets.  I will never claim that this is good landscape design. A purist would have removed the gardenias years ago, but I will not give up the late spring sensation of walking out the front door into the fragrance of old-timey corsages and boutonnieres.

I remember buying the first gardenia, a dwarf variety, over 20 years ago, and planting it in the middle of the space. It was disappointingly slow to grow and didn't bear enough flowers to suit me, and so the next year I went out and bought two more gardenias -- standard size this time -- and planted them one on each side of the tiny original. Knowing that they would need more moisture than I was likely to give them, I planted each one inside an old tire, buried to the sidewalls. If all three plants had been the same variety, this might have made an interesting hedge. Instead, the tall gardenias overshadowed the small one until I decided to limit them to about 30 inches in height.

This year's pruning is a slow, sweaty process in unusually hot weather, but as the larger pieces drop away, I am finally rewarded with the almost annual phenomenon I'd been hoping to see: a tiny bud just starting to open on the dwarf gardenia, and several tightly furled ones promising more to come. The first time I saw this, it inspired a haiku:

     spring bloom in fall month
     draws wonder and suspicion
     yet smells sweet as June's

Flowering is where and when we find it.
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POSToccupations by Frances Talbott-White is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License