Bill Knight column for Thurs., Fri., or Sat., May 14, 15 or 16
This is when azaleas, dogwoods, lilacs, peonies, tulips, viburnums and other beautiful plants are vibrant. It’s also when tender vegetables such as beans, sweet corn and summer squash can be planted from seed, and tomato transplants can be put in, as well as vining crops such watermelon, cucumbers, pumpkins and cantaloupes, plus eggplants, peppers and sweet potatoes.
May also is a time to recall the many people who’ve written about the wonders of gardens.
Between the Gardens of Eden and Gethsemane, for instance, the Bible has multiple references to the places where people cultivate color and nutrition. In 1st Kings, Ahab says to Naboth, “Give me thy vineyard, that I may have it for a garden of herbs. And in Song of Solomon, it’s written, “Let my beloved come into his garden, and eat his pleasant fruits.”
Secular poets also have frequently used the garden for imagery or metaphor, and such verse can be as inspiring as scripture. Of course, there’s the familiar "Mary, Mary, quite contrary" by Mother Goose –
“Mary, Mary, quite contrary
“How does your garden grow?
“With silver bells and cockleshells
“And pretty maids all in a row.
Here are a few other examples, courtesy of the poetryoundation.org:
“MUCH IN LITTLE”
Amid the iris and the rose,
The honeysuckle and the bay,
The wild earth for a moment goes
In dust or weed another way.
Small though its corner be, the weed
Will yet intrude its creeping beard;
The harsh blade and the hairy seed
Recall the brutal earth we feared.
And if no water touch the dust
In some far corner, and one dare
To breathe upon it, one may trust
The spectre on the summer air:
The risen dust alive with fire,
The fire made visible, a blur
Interrate, the pervasive ire
Of foxtail and of hoarhound burr.
-- Yvor Winters
“WHEREOF THE GIFT IS SMALL
Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey”
And short the season, first rubythroat
in the fading lilacs, alyssum in bloom,
a honeybee bumbling in the bleeding heart
on my gelding’s grave while beetles swarm
him underground. Wet feet, wet cuffs,
little flecks of buttercup on my sneaker toes,
bluets, violets crowding out the tufts
of rich new grass the horses nose
and nibble like sleepwalkers held fast—
brittle beauty—might this be the last?
– Maxine W. Kumin
All afternoon I walk behind the mower,
Imagining, though paradoxically,
That even though the grass is getting lower,
What I have cut is like a rising sea;
The parts I haven’t cut, with every pass,
Resemble real geography, a map,
A shrinking island continent of grass
Where shoreline vanishes with every lap.
At last, the noise and smell of gasoline
Dispel my dream. What sea? Peninsulas?
They were the lands my inner child had seen,
Their little Yucatáns and Floridas.
But when I’m finished, and Yard goes back to Lawn,
I can’t help thinking that a world is gone.
– Wilmer Mills
What a time.
[PICTURED: My back yard.]