Thursday, August 07, 2014

Studying Sunflowers

While most of last year's crop of sunflower seeds were fed to the birds, I saved some for planting this year. On two or three different occasions I put some in places I thought would make a sunflower happy, but to be honest,  didn't keep good track of where they were. I left the weather in charge of watering them, and was pretty lucky on that front; it was a wet spring, but not overly so, from what I could tell.

Suspicious-looking holes suggested that squirrels, or possibly birds, found many of the seeds soon after they were buried, but a few survived to sprout. Many of those then fell victim to some nibbler or other, probably the rabbit who spends a lot of time in the yard, leaping about with all his rabbit friends and relatives. But a few sprouts even made it past this critical stage, whether it was because of the red pepper I scattered at their roots, or because of their proximity to sage and rosemary plants.

Even after the sprouts survived the rabbits though, they weren't out of the woods. Some bug or other has been turning many of the leaves into doilies, even munching away at the edges of the flower petals. The surviving plants all look a bit bedraggled, but they remain undefeated.

There are five plants that are clearly sunflowers, and two more that I think are, but are still too small for me to be sure. There are two varieties: a red hybrid called evening sun and another which I can no longer identify correctly but think of as your classic giant yellow sunflower. One of the evening suns bloomed a few weeks ago; it puts out multiple blooms, and is already starting a second round. The three big yellows seemed intent on gaining a lot of height first. I assumed the one in front, nearly seven feet and bathed in direct morning light, would be the first to bloom, but one of the two shorter ones in back beat it to the punch just this morning. There are probably useful lessons to be gleaning about micro-climates from these plants, actually. I understand why the one on the west side is significantly behind the others in terms of development; what sun it gets is late afternoon, probably for at most four hours. Of the three in the front yard, I understand why the one farthest from the shade of house and arbor vitae bloomed first. I'm not entirely clear why the one slightly closer to the evergreen is so much smaller than its vigorous kin nearby though. I would have thought it got at least as much sun as the blooming one, but it is lagging behind. 

(I also have to remember there may have been a few weeks between plantings.)

Then the one in back, that bloomed just today, is the six foot gap between it and its twin really enough to give it that lead? They're almost the same height. But other evidence supports this finding; that corner of the house lies to the southeast, and everything that grows there--monarda, cosmos, morning glories, sweet peas--grows faster, taller and more lushly than do the same plants just a few feet away.

Much as I've been enjoying mucking about in Bill's backyard, I have to laugh at what it's reminding me about my work habits. The sunflowers in particular have been a fine example of my 'scatter a bunch of stuff and see what happens' approach. It has a lot to recommend it; it keeps the stakes low (you don't put too much stock in any one seed); any result at all will be a gift, a surprise even; you end up feeling like the universe (in the form of sun, rain and distracted nibblers) has smiled on your modest efforts. I might claim that I'm still contentedly in a state of beginner's mind with this whole gardening thing. I know how little I know, I don't mind being a novice, it's all gravy. For now. 

I wouldn't say my life directly mirrors this. While it was a tried and true strategy in the past, I don't think I've been scattering that many seeds of late, to be frank. All the happiness experts encourage us to be in the moment and to commit to something greater than ourselves. Those aren't contradictory impulses really, but there's a tricky balance to letting go and committing simultaneously. 

In recent years I've been reminded just how arbitrary and unpredictable life can be, and in response I think I moved away from long-term planning. I took to heart all that advice from hospice workers on how not to regret things on your deathbed, and as a consequence have had some wonderful adventures, trips, and delicious time with loved ones. I have most definitely collected some memories that will warm me on my deathbed. But in other ways I think I've been on auto-pilot, plodding along in the day-to-day without looking at a bigger picture. This silly little patch of flowers is as close as I've come to long-term planning, to making something, in a few years. And it's nice, believe me I've been having a ball, but come on, let's not wax too poetic about a bunch of hardy perennials (and yes, okay, a handful of hard-won sunflowers) on a quarter acre in Jersey. With no offense meant to Jersey, whoopty-fuckin'-do. 

Maybe at the root of all this is the idea that if I'm having fun, feeling good about something, then it's a clue. Maybe it's my secret calling, my long-sought but seldom seen Right Livelihood finally revealing itself! Maybe all the time and brain real estate I've devoted to this little garden is significant.

Excuse me while I breathe into this paper bag. 

No. No no no. Why can't I just have hobbies? Why can't I just let something be FUN? Do I really think I have to put the rest of my life on hold until I've ACHIEVED SOMETHING IMPRESSIVE?

Apparently, yes. I'm beginning to think this 'letting go' business hasn't been letting go so much as hiding. But I'm enjoying the hell out of these sunflowers.  Sometimes a garden is just a garden. 


Jeff said...

This. This is what I'm saying:

Good work, Patrick. There is something in this that is your current calling, in my humblest. Love ya'.

Sooo-this-is-me said...

Sunflowers, yup they certainly are beautiful. Passing through to see if any of the blog "old timers" are still at it. Hope all is well my fellow sexy Irish man.