Month: April 2013

The Garden in April

What with other things going on in my life recently (such as income tax), I have become disconnected from my garden. Today I finally spent some time in it, edge-clipping and weeding, noting in the process that some of the blue poppies have rapidly developing buds. Also notable…

Bergenias

Bergenias

These bergenias in the front garden got to the blooming stage because I covered them with a chicken-wire Bucky barrier. It’s a good thing I took this picture, however, because once I removed the barrier, three of them were prematurely deadheaded, most likely by Bucky. He hasn’t been visiting the back garden much lately, though…

Deer fence

Deer fence

because of this simple barrier — nearly invisible lightweight plastic mesh attached to two long stakes. The orange rope and reflective ribbons are there to make the fence visible to deer at night, and also to deter birds from flying into it. Since we put this up in Bucky’s favourite entry spot to the back garden, he hasn’t returned. I admit I feel a bit guilty, because he must have found the pond a convenient watering hole. The trouble was that he didn’t stop at getting a drink and loafing on the lawn.

Caged Parrots

Caged Parrots

These rather gaudy parrot tulips look ridiculous in their chicken-wire cage, but they are in bloom. It’s funny how valuable something seems if you think you’ve saved it from disaster.

In the meantime…

Fiddleheads near the pond

Fiddleheads near the pond

More Fiddleheads behind Rosemary blooms

More Fiddleheads behind Rosemary blooms

With the new growth of ferns and perennials, and blue-flowering plants such as this rosemary and the ubiquitous bluebells, there is sometimes a blue-and-gold look to parts of the garden.

Bluebells

Bluebells

Apple blossom time

Apple blossom time

Front garden looking west

Front garden looking west

This is a good example of a “borrowed view.” My garden looks much bigger from this perspective, but the shrubs behind the big Euphorbia “Humpty-Dumpty” (yes, that’s really the name of this variety) belong to my neighbour.

Knots and Contortions

Recently, a week of warm sunny weather made new growth leap up and reminded me that some plants need to be supported, the earlier the better. Waiting until they collapse before taking measures is not a good idea; the poor things end up slumped and graceless, looking like victims of bondage.

In my garden, the plants in need of support are peonies, delphiniums and a specimen of an unknown Thalictrum with tiny, almost invisible flowers that grows to a luxuriant four feet of lacy green foliage — until the inevitable summer westerly winds, when it develops an unflattering list unless strapped firmly in place.

Specialized metal supports are available in a variety of shapes for different kinds of plants, but they are quite expensive. I rely on combinations of bamboo or wooden stakes and good old garden twine. The first step is to select stakes of suitable height and heft and position three or four of them around the plant. Then I anchor the twine to one of the stakes and wrap it around the rest, securing it to the original stake. Additional sections of twine may be added as the plant grows, resulting in a visually subtle cage that sees the plants through to the fall, when it can be removed. Twine can be reused for a number of years before it becomes too weak and goes into the compost heap.

I use three knots to create these plant supports. The initial knot securing the twine is a Clove Hitch and the final one is two Half Hitches. If I need to join two pieces of twine to form a longer one, I use a Square Knot or Reef Knot. A knot much used by sailors, the Bowline, would probably also be useful in the garden, because it creates a slip-proof loop at the end of a rope, but sadly, I still can’t tie one to save my life. I recommend learning these knots because it’s much easier at the end of the season to untie proper knots than improvised messes that inevitably tangle and bind.

Practicing knot-tying until you can do it quickly and easily is also a good idea. It’s one thing to tie a knot while sitting at a table or standing up straight on both feet. But doing it while balanced on one foot in a perennial border, or holding an asymmetrical position, hoping not to lose one’s balance and squash a bunch of tender shoots is quite another matter. The sooner you can secure your knots, the better.

Much can happen before that, however, such as stepping gingerly into the perennial bed, hoping not to crush innocent plants, teetering in awkward positions while manipulating stakes and string, the surprise lurch when the stake you’re poking into the ground unexpectedly snaps, discovering the string is too short and having to extract yourself from the bed to get more, etc., etc.

Gardening isn’t a sport, exactly, like tennis or cycling, but gardeners can find themselves bending, stretching, reaching, climbing, pounding in stakes, lugging heavy pots and struggling to dig up roots. Sudden twisting motions and mighty yanks can cause injuries that take months to heal. It’s probably a good idea to do some stretching and balancing practice before starting in on the plant support job, especially if you are out of shape from a winter of idleness.

Facts From Fiction?

I learned a lot about ancient Greece from Mary Renault and quite a bit about the French Revolution from Hilary Mantel. Reading Mary Stewart’s novels about Merlin and Arthur made me want to learn more about the facts behind the legends. I knew nothing about the business of making and selling fine china and porcelain until I read Richard Adams’ The Girl in a Swing (which also has an unexpected mini-travelogue of central Florida).

All of these books are works of fiction, but with the bonus of facts, or at least gateways to facts. Fiction is fiction, however, so it’s unfair to expect hard factual information there. Or is it?

Some would say that if a writer decides to use a historical period as the setting for their work, they must learn all about it and be true to the facts. If a novel contains information about a profession or craft, the author is obligated to find out all about it and not guess or extrapolate. Others would argue that unless the plot of the novel directly involves historical events or technical processes, it’s all right for the author to blur things a bit. After all, how many readers are going to bother checking whether a battle was fought on a Tuesday or a Sunday, or what the exact temperature is for firing porcelain? And anyway, no one should expect to learn history or science from novels. If you want to find out about Athens in the time of Socrates, or what Alexander the Great was really like, there are plenty of serious, well-researched books about these subjects.

Well, what do I think?

Except for students, it’s very unlikely that anyone would read a serious, well-researched book on anything if their interest in that subject hadn’t been piqued by something, such as a story in the media or a work of fiction. Authors of novels can contribute to knowledge in this way, and they are most likely to do this by incorporating into their fiction subjects about which they are enthusiastic and knowledgeable.

I also think writers must exercise responsibility when they incorporate elements from the real world into their fiction. For example, World War I appears several times in my Herbert West Trilogy. It was such an enormous and terrible part of history that I decided I had to treat it with respect, which meant doing a lot of reading about the conditions the soldiers and medical personnel endured. Writing about quasi-fictional places in H.P. Lovecraft’s New England, such as Arkham and Kingsport (thought to be Salem and Marblehead), made me uneasy, as I have never been near these places, but I rationalized my ignorance with their quasi-fictional nature.

Even though fiction is fiction, therefore, it presents a unique opportunity to entice people into reading and learning more about the real world. Writers of novels must keep this in mind, and writers of nonfiction would do well to sharpen their technique and present their facts in prose that is entertaining as well as educational.