Thursday, July 7, 2011

Gardening Punk

Derek Jarman garden photo courtesy Flickr

For decades, I have wondered idly whether a punk garden would make sense for the front of the house, and if so, what it might look like. It’s a shame to insult the essential loveliness of flora, but I finally found the opening I’ve been looking for.

Over the last few growing seasons, I’ve given most of the garden back to native plants, a rewarding experiment that has cut days off my workload. The front sward is a small river of clover and yarrow in bloom, and it’s approaching the dry season, when I water not at all.

The front stoop looked a little bleak without the usual pots of geranium, and I salvaged a veteran three-legged Mexican terra-cotta planter from the alley a few weeks ago, planting it with a tomato I hoped would cascade down the hot cement steps of the front entry. My experimental format promptly failed, leaving me with a nice piece of terra cotta mulched with some okay pebbles and a tomato the same color as the pot.

A rare visit to Great Big Northern European Home Furnishings Central turned up a sassy fake zinnia just the right color green. I swapped out the dead tomato for an equally dead but more appealing leafless blossom, and I think it works. There’s a back-up fake chrysanthemum for Labor Day.

The garden section of the store, my favorite section actually, also supplied packages of bleached corkscrew willow stalks meant for interior accents. I planted one amidst the tall yarrow flowers, and it punctuates it beautifully. More will follow.

I don’t think this would have worked before a new set of townhouses appeared across the street. They have high-tech metal siding and the flat urban planes that are influenced by Japanese architecture. The buildings integrate the single-family Victorian houses on the street with the ill-advised 1950s remodeling of an early twentieth-century apartment building.

I spent an afternoon loafing in the hammock long enough to realize that the new construction is painted just the color of the trunks of the towering ash trees that front it, and its dark surfaces are the color of the shadows.

Not bad. Hope they sell.

-30- More after the jump.

Table Service

Photo courtesy Flickr

My partner once remarked that “too good to use is not good enough”. An archaeologist, he takes a long view about quality. Sitting over breakfast on the second of July, I was planning my first and last courses of the holiday meal we would be sharing with neighbors.

I felt like throwing a bunch of silver on the dessert table, summer casual be damned, because I downsized the middle-grade dishes in favor of the best and of paper plates. As I considered the wisdom of watching video fireworks reflected in the coffee pot, a memorable tea came to mind.

About twenty years ago, PBS broadcast the visit of a French anthropologist to a community of Sea Dyak people in New Guinea. Famously aggressive, they still followed their ancestral way of life, living in huge, elegant communal houses, traveling by canoe, and making and harvesting what they needed to live, although local authorities had discouraged head-hunting.

A woman invited the anthro guy to tea, and he was flabbergasted to be served a light meal on sixteenth-century blue and white Chinese porcelain.
A little elegance never hurt anyone.

-30- More after the jump.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Two and Two

Photo courtesy Flickr

Now and then unrelated news stories add up to one conceivably viable idea. Beatnik Gary Snyder, the great advocate for the environment, said in one of his poems that if one is going to live in this part of the country, don’t have anything that can’t be left out in the rain.

My partner’s been flood-fighting in Eastern Washington, an exciting alternative to sitting at a desk all day tapping computer keys. He reluctantly turned down a request to fight more flood further east, where water levels exceed any previously recorded. Morning news stories all too often are featuring an interview with someone surrounded by decrepit wallboard and soggy insulation who has lost every thing that eases daily life.

A wise older friend told me that when she was newly married, she went to Goodwill and bought wicker garden furniture (a good buy at the time) so that she could afford to have help cleaning the house. Starting with good garden furniture is a classic ploy-one can eventually upgrade and then move the first wave into the yard. The first floor of my house is furnished with things that work equally well indoors or out. It's a simple way of adding easy living to what is essentially an 1812 piece of architecture. The Windsor chair, by the way, was originally a garden piece, the ubiquitous director's chair a portable throne.

A Saturday network morning news show featured a collection of upholstered furniture that is weather-proof. I can see no reason not to furnish a flood-prone house with things that can survive being submergedLife is simple when cleaning a sofa or chair means carrying it out to the yard, spraying it with a liquid solution, and washing it with the hose. Kids like to help.

-30- More after the jump.