Here’s a grab-bag of POETRY & LAUGHTER from our email Gazette and past catalogs, starting with the most recently published. For other topics, please see our main Newsletter Archives page.
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Furniture on the Outlawn: A Father’s Day Chuckle

Just in time for Father’s Day, here’s a funny little hellstrip/boulevard story from our good customer Cathy Egerer of Grand Marais, Michigan:
“I had fun reading your article on what people call the strip between the sidewalk and street. We always called it the ‘outlawn’ when I was a kid, but I cracked up when I saw that another name for it is ‘furniture zone’. [In urban settings, this term is used to differentiate the space for outdoor seating, etc., from the pedestrian zone.] You have no idea how apt that is! Our house was on a busy street, and whenever we had some old, large piece of stuff to get rid of (chair, barbecue grill, junky old dresser), Dad would haul it to the outlawn and put a ‘Free!’ sign on it. Then we’d take bets on how long it would take for someone to stop and pick it up. The record was about 15 minutes until last year, when my brother and I were cleaning out the house after Mom passed away. We put an old, beat-up desk out at the curb with a sign, and it was gone in eight minutes. We high-fived and decided it was Dad letting us know he was thinking of us.” (June 2014)

Bulb of the Month: Emily Dickinson’s Dog-tooth Violet

Gardeners love to share the joy we find in gardening. We pick tomatoes with our kids, we give plants away, we post photos on Facebook, and we join garden clubs. For those of us who grow heirloom plants there’s the added pleasure of sharing with gardeners beyond the bounds of time — such as Emily Dickinson, who I was happy to discover was a fellow fan of one of my favorite wildflowers, dog-tooth violet or trout lily, which she knew as adder’s tongue. In Emily Dickinson’s Gardens, our good customer Marta McDowell writes:
“While Emily reveled in her solitary walks and canine companions, she also explored with her friends. ‘There were several pleasure parties of which I was a member, and in our rambles we found many and many beautiful children of spring . . . — the trailing arbutus, adder’s tongue, yellow violets, liver-leaf, blood-root, and many other smaller flowers.’
“One spring, with a gift of adder’s tongue, Emily enclosed this poem, noting their dappled leaves.
        Their dappled importunity
        Disparage or dismiss —
        The Obloquies of Etiquette
        Are obsolete to Bliss —
“Emily’s poems . . . are often opportunities for the dictionary. ‘Importunity’ means unseasonable, and May is early for lilies. . . . ‘Obloquies’ are slanders, abuses. She implies that bliss beats bad manners. Perhaps Emily’s floral acknowledgment was belated, or maybe there was a hidden meaning known only to the recipient.”
For me, the poem’s most important meaning is clear: 150 years ago one of America’s greatest poets shared my “bliss” in a simple little wildflower that blooms in my backyard every spring. (To share the bliss, order yours now for fall planting. And don’t miss the other American wildflowers new this year, Dutchman’s breeches and trillium.) (Aug. 2013)

Spring in the Comic Pages

Last Sunday’s edition of one of our favorite comics, Arlo and Janis, will bring a knowing smile to any gardener. Enjoy it here. (March 2013)

Laugh of the Month: G-argh!-dening

I’m a big fan of three-pronged cultivators (my current favorite is a light, sturdy, ridiculously inexpensive one by Fiskar), as is the guy in this recent “Speed Bump” comic. (Oct. 2012)

Eudora Welty’s Ode to Bulb-Eating Rodents

My family looks at me like I’m a lunatic when I pound on the window and holler at squirrels digging in my garden, but Eudora Welty would understand. I recognized her as a kindred spirit when I read this witty, William Blake inspired poem that she wrote and posted on a stick in her garden. (From One Writer’s Garden, by Susan Halton and Jane Roy Brown, page 146) (Nov. 2011)
Squirrel, squirrel, burning bright,
Do not eat my bulbs tonight!
I think it bad and quite insidious
That you should eat my blue tigridias.
Squirrel, Sciurus vulgaris,
Leave to me my small muscaris,
Must you make your midnight snack, mouse,
Of Narcissus Mrs. Backhouse?
When you bite the pure leucojum,
Do you feel no taint of odium?
Must you chew till Kingdom Come
If in your tummy bloomed a lily,
Wouldn’t you feel sort of silly?
Do you wish to tease and joke us
When you carry off a crocus?
Must you hang up in your pantries
All my Pink Queen zephyranthes?
Tell me, has it ever been thus,
Squirrels must eat the hyacinthus?
O little rodent,
I wish you wo’dn’t!

Summer Reading: Between Tulips and the Gloomy Sea

Flowers have been inspiring art and poetry for millennia. Here’s a recent poem that starts with a familiar scene from the Dutch bulb fields but quickly morphs into something darker and more poignant. Thanks to our good customer Sue McIver for emailing it to us, the Poetry 180 program of the Library of Congress for emailing it to her, and Doug Dorph and his publisher for giving us permission to share it with you. (From Too Too Flesh, Mudfish Individual Poet Series #3, 2000, Box Turtle Press, New York, NY) (July 2010)

“Dutch Boy,” by Doug Dorph

To one side, the North Sea like lead,
to the other, tulips, too bright, too colorful,
and your finger hurts. You are tied
to the big belly of the dike, your finger
a reverse umbilicus that sucks the boyish
into responsible sea. My complaint concerns
childhood, the premature loss thereof.
Mother, from under one of her headaches, told me — cook dinner:
fish sticks, spaghetti sauce,
beef Wellington, hummingbird’s tongue under glass.
How did I know we wouldn’t wash away
like silt in the burst? The Provider,
the Protector, the Pleaser, Good Boy —
it’s ingrained like the fat that marbles
choice beef. But there’s no choice.
When the gloomy sea threatens, you’re there
with your trusty finger. The bicycle lies forlorn
on the gravel bicycle path in the shadow of the dike.
The family windmill is brittle and blue as a scene on a plate.
Yet your other hand, the one with the free digit,
reaches for the painted flower heads
bobbing in their painted flowerbeds.

Laughing Locally: Arlo and Janis Grow Their Own

Last week my favorite comic-strip couple did what a lot of us are doing this spring: they planted vegetables. And, as usual, they not only made me laugh, they got me thinking. You can enjoy their week-long adventure at comics.com/arlo&janis/2010-04-12/. Click on the arrow by the date above the strip to continue to the next day’s installment. You could also ask Comics.com to email “Arlo and Janis” (or dozens of other comics) to you every morning. It’s free and, like gardening, laughing is good for you. (May 2010)

Bulbs Gone Wild: Craving Spring

If you’re already looking forward to spring, this poem’s for you. Written this past March by our good customer Stephani Franklin of Tulsa, it’s so far from smarmy it may deserve a warning label, but we love how it captures the desperate exuberance that all of Nature seems to feel as spring gets near. (Stephani added in a post-script, “Don’t worry, it melted, they all survived.”) (Nov. 2009)

“March Snow,” by Stephani Franklin

Icy morning penance
Catches revelers off guard
To their sorrow;
Affirms ascetics
Of their canon.
Snug under a blanket of
Mulch and warming earth,
Smug, biding their time
Reciting pious axioms,
“Good things come to those who wait.”
“Patience is a virtue.”

I lament the carousers:
Heads bowed, freezing;
Icicles dripping from
Outstretched frond.
I craved spring.
They felt my longing and obliged
Cheerfully, foolishly,
Bad influences, egging each other on
“It’s spring somewhere, let’s get this party started.
Laissez le bon temps roulet!”
As midnight
Skulked in the alley.

For a few short days
They were the life of the party;
First krewe in the parade.
Staggering, laughing
Leaning on one another
Lifting their shirts
With a boozy wink,
“Throw me some bead, mister!”
Thumbing their nose at forty days
Of ash and deprivation
And me cheering them on
From my kitchen window.

The virtuous will see the sunrise
On Easter morning.
They always do.
But I won’t need them
In April.
They’ll emerge in a din
Azaleas, quince, iris, peony,
Sunday morning congregation
Reverently filing in
Just another fancy hat in the pew

I will remember my good time friends;
The lovely drunks
Singing a little too loud,
Swaying in my yard
At the tail-end of winter.
Who came out when they shouldn’t
Who misbehaved.
Who knew better.
But did, anyway.
Cheers!

Laughing with Bulbs: Doonesbury’s Zonker

Even Doonesbury’s Zonker Harris is planting bulbs this fall. For six days of laughs, go to doonesbury.com/strip/dailydose/index.html?uc_full_date=20090928. Click the “Next” tab at the top of each comic to see them all. There’s also a link just above that to “Latest FAQ: Why do bulbs keep coming up in Doonesbury?”
We bet you’ll recognize a bit of yourself — and us — in the strips. Happy laughing! (Oct. 2009)

“In the Dirt”: A Gardener’s Song for Tough Times

Our good customer Karen Savoca is a gifted singer-songwriter whose funky, melodic, highly personal songs have gained her a loyal following across the country. If she and her guitar-wizard husband Pete are ever performing anywhere near you, go! They’re mesmerizing, and a whole lot of fun. One of Karen’s songs has been echoing through my head recently, and she was happy to let us share the lyrics with you. We hope you’ll find it a helpful tonic for these challenging times. (You can listen to it here or buy it from iTunes for $.99!) (Mar. 2009)

“In the Dirt,” by Karen Savoca, © 2005 Alcove Music/BMI

gonna dig down in the dirt
get it all over my skin
sleep real well and up with the sun
do it all over again
        dig down dig down
        way way down in the ground

gonna dig down in the dirt
feel it between my toes
gonna find out what every farmer knows
there down in the dirt
        dig down dig down
        way way down in the ground

gonna dig down in the dirt
plant good things to eat
gonna heel it in with my own two feet
way down in the dirt
        dig down dig down
        way way down in the ground

gonna dig down in the dirt
where all the good things grow
gonna have a long talk with mother earth
she knows how to soothe my soul
        dig down dig down
        way way down in the ground

whatcha gonna do when you’ve had enough
when the bills pile up
when the water’s too deep
when the hill’s too steep
        dig down dig down

whatcha gonna do with a head full of bees
when you’re tired of sayin’ please
when the motor won’t run
when you’re feelin’ done
        dig down dig down

whatcha gonna do when the baby can’t sleep
when you’re too tired to weep
in a world full of schemes
to remember your dreams
        dig down dig down

Inspired by OHG: A Holiday Carol for Bulb Lovers

Here’s a cheery little treat from our friend Linda Beutler of Portland, Oregon, author of the fabulous Garden to Vase: Growing and Using Your Own Cut Flowers. She writes, “Some of us here have started a little horticultural singing group, The Goddess Flora Chorus and Dead-heading Society. I’m their principal lyricist, and I was very much thinking of Old House Gardens when I penned the following. (For maximum pleasure, sing it aloud to a friend!) (Dec 2007)

“Catalog in Hand,” by Linda Beutler (to the tune of “Winter Wonderland”)

Post man rings,
Are you listening?
In the box,
Paper’s glistening,
A beautiful sight,
On this autumn night,
Walking ‘round with catalog in hand!

Gotta get
Bulbs for spring time,
Order now, it’ll save time,
My order is long,
Hope nothing goes wrong,
Walking ‘round with catalog in hand!

On the internet there are more pictures,
But how to know the server is secure?
They all want my VISA information,
And I just want some tulips to endure!

Later on
I’ll perspire,
A hot flash, by the fire,
There’s buyer’s remorse,
And no room of course,
Walking ‘round with catalog in hand,

In a meadow I could naturalize you.
Narcissus as far as I can see,
Lots of little crocus tantalize you,
But they don’t give those bulbs away for free . . .

If it snows
I’ll be knowing,
In the ground,
Bulbs are growing,
And it’ll be grand, a true wonderland,
Walking ‘round with catalog in hand!

Canna Poetry: “Sprouting Across Time”

If you don’t already have a favorite poem about cannas, here’s one we highly recommend. Inspired by our heirlooms (check out the dedication) and written by our good customer Diane Dees of Covington, Louisiana, it not only won a prize in the Binnacle Second Annual Ultra Short Competition, but just last month it was published in Australia’s Bikwil magazine. (June 2006)

“Canna Mania,” by Diane Dees

(for Scott K.)
Antique cannas startle me in the garden.
Bold leaves of bronze, olive finely striped,
green blades with vermillion veins, paint-box
blooms of sunrise and sunset, peaches and melons.
Watermelon-red slurped by ruby-throats
buzzing frantically around ancient rind.
Scarlet/yellow harlequin pinwheel,
random pats of butter streaked by Devon cream,
technicolor leopard skin,
lozenges of orange, orpiment flames.
sometimes Monet, often Rothko;
Victorian madness, sprouting across time,
mine for the price of a rhizome

Horace: Read the Poet, Plant the Daffodil

Many historic pheasant’s-eye or poet’s narcissus are named for poets, including our latest addition, ‘Horace’ [currently unavailable], from 1894. The roman poet Horace lived from 65-8 BCE and often celebrated rural pleasures in his work. Here’s a snippet from his Odes (2.11). (2006-07 catalog)
Why don’t we lie beneath the tall plane tree
or the pine, just as we are, and crown our white hair
with fragrant roses, and anoint ourselves
with Assyrian perfume, and drink, while we may?

Wordsworth’s “Daffodils” and the Pleasures of Memory

Though you can probably quote a line or two from William Wordsworth’s “Daffodils,” when was the last time you read the whole thing? Here’s your chance.
The daffodils that inspired Wordsworth as he vacationed in England’s Lake District were almost certainly N. pseudonarcissus, the Lent lily, which naturalizes happily in much of the US as well. But I think you’ll find the poem is really more about the pleasures of memory than daffodils — and much more than a sappy cliché. (1999-2000 catalog)

“Daffodils,” by William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed — and gazed — but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon the inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

Parrot Tulip Poetry from Sissinghurst’s Vita Sackville-West

In her book-length 1946 poem The Garden, Vita Sackville-West writes:
. . . the Parrot, better called the Dragon,
Ah, that’s a pranking feat of fantasy,
Swirling as crazy plumes of the macaw,
Green flounced with pink, and fringed, and topple-heavy,
A tipsy flower, lurching with the fun
Of its vagary. Has it strayed and fallen
Out of the prodigal urn, the Dutchman’s canvas
Crammed to absurdity? Or truly grown
From a brown bulb in brown and sober soil?
Did you catch the “fantasy” pun? Vita grew the pink and green parrot tulip ‘Fantasy’ — a sport of ‘Clara Butt’ — in her world famous gardens at Sissinghurst. (2000-01 catalog)

For articles on other topics, see our main Newsletter Archives page.

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