Gardening Van Gogh

November 27, 2008

I have this thing for gardening. Just me and plants and dirt. Creative yet mindless. Mixing and matching. Trial and error. Nobody telling me how to do it.

My three-year-old son draws better than me, but the yard is a canvas on which I can paint something of merit. I say “I” as if it’s me making the art. But in this part of Oregon, any fool can fashion a wonderland of color and texture and symmetry. The climate in Portland, viewed as inhospitable by some, is ideal for growing things.

Watching things grow, whither away, and return is my clock. A visual drama ticking past, and I delude myself into thinking I direct it. Each year has peculiarities. Late spring cold threw this year’s cycle off kilter by three or more weeks.

Caught in this biological time warp were late blooming perennials, such as dahlias and my proud water hibiscus that sprouts a woody ten-foot stalk adorned with delicate red blooms. The blooms never achieved their normal impressive size. Many buds didn’t have time to open before cool temperatures arrived. With no freeze yet, they still cling to branches, like eyes permanently clamped shut.

And how impressive in this stubborn Thomas Edison dahlia bloom showing off to the world for ten weeks now? One-third smaller than usual, it’s vibrancy has faded. But what a sight on a wet, cold Thanksgiving Day.

Soon enough the bloom will shrivel to nothing along with its stalk, destined to be clipped and hauled away. And then I’ll begin watching that bare patch of ground, and waiting.