Summer’s Stillness

– Posted in: Lilactree Farm, What's up/blooming

…………When you do dance, I wish you
A wave o’ th’ sea, that you might ever do
Nothing but that; move still, still so,
And own no other function.

W.S., The Winter’s Tale (4.4. 140-43)

Neither Maureen nor Roan has found this to be a companionable summer; too hot, too humid. But for the garden and the gardener it has been, at least until the last days of August, almost an unqualified pleasure. If ‘summer’ can be taken to stand for ‘the gardening season’, then, for five months, from the beginning of April until the end of August, this gardener, at least, cannot remember a summer when plants have looked so healthy and growth has been so continuous and substantial. There was one brief hiccup, those frosty nights in the second week of May, and one incontrovertible downside; the grass never stopped growing and the mowing never ceased. Were it not for Wimbledon and the French and US Opens, and my new pleasure – crumbling chocolate-chip cookies into fat-free yogurt, denial balancing indulgence in the way that this season’s rain has offset this season’s heat – I might by now be enviably twiggified.

A third, welcome feature of this summer, until the first week in September more striking than the heat, which is standard fare, and the moisture, which is not unusual, has been the stillness. ‘Still’ has the double meaning that Florizel exploits in his epizeuxian paean to Perdita’s beauty (“…move still, still so”), both ‘always, continuing,’ and ‘stationary’, and day after day as I  woke and looked out at the young trees on the Front Lawn I have been struck by the absence of wind, that the foliage is unmoving (‘still’), and that that has been true day after day (‘it’s still still’). Any of the trees here that are exposed to the north-west winds have shapes like ballet dancers with their hands clasped above their heads, leaning to the south-east.

Symbolic of this stillness is our latest purchase. It is a 2m. Metasequoia glyptostroboides ‘Gold Rush’, and it stands at the entrance to the Barnyard where, for the moment, it is completely protected from the wind from the north by the cattle barn and the foliage of oaks and birches, and from the sides by fences. We think of ‘Gold Rush’ as a foolishly romantic purchase, foolish because the winter may be too harsh or, on the other hand, not harsh enough so that the tree thrives and will soon outgrow its site and will need to be moved; romantic because as we look up the Driveway under the spreading branches, on the east side, of Japanese lilacs and an ever-expanding Zelkova serrata, and on the west side of kolkwitzias and a Siberian crabapple and a merely adolescent Zelkova sinensis, we see it, like Eliot’s “still point in a turning world”, exorbitantly glowing in the afternoon sun, a beckoning golden light at the end of the tunnel.

Metasequoia glyptostroboides Gold Rush

'a beckoning golden light at the end of the tunnel' Photo courtesy Brian Bixley

About the Author

Brian Bixley and his wife live in a Victorian farmhouse 70 miles north-west of Toronto, where he has slowly been making a garden in the middle of open farm fields. While he has particular interests in clematis (the species), alpine plants and, more recently, unusual trees, his main concern is making a garden that is satisfying in a number of ways, and which relates to and “borrows” the beautiful countryside that surrounds it. Brian’s book, Essays on Gardening in a Cold Climate, is available for $20 (US or Canadian), plus shipping. His new book, Ten New Snowdrops, is a tongue-in-cheek commentary on the passion for new snowdrop forms. CAN$15.00 Click here to order them.

What differentiates a bulb from a perennial plant is that the nourishment for the flower is stored within the bulb itself.…There is something miraculous about the way that a little grenade of dried up tissue can explode into a complete flower.

~Monty Don in The Complete Gardener pp. 142

Comments on this entry are closed.

Sarah October 13, 2010, 5:17 pm

You captured this summer so well. I have been absorbed in our bountiful harvest, fall colors and yes, absence of wind (thank you for noticing, it is the same here). But I had forgotten how it all began with the heat and humidity, the one late frost. It was nice to go back.

Gail October 12, 2010, 10:23 pm

A lovely essay~It was a rough four months from a flood in May through the drought and it ain’t over yet! But….there’s always next year. gail

commonweeder October 12, 2010, 9:00 am

If you don’t count the drought, we had a good summer. Of course, we are getting old enough to realize that every day we wake up is a day to be treasured. The dawn redwood is a beautiful tree. The special tree we planted this year is a larch, the deciduous conifer.

Eliz October 11, 2010, 8:56 am

Lovely essay. I liked this summer as well–though some quibbles regarding September.

Mr. McGregor's Daughter October 10, 2010, 10:09 pm

I’m glad someone’s garden had a good summer. The dawn redwood is such a stunning tree. I hope it thrives, but in a restrained fashion.