Garden Notes — May 2008

If posting has been a little scarce this past week, I have one word in reply: garden. This being Ontario, and also being the Victoria Day weekend, it’s time for the annual horticultural frenzy. I have been happily digging in my rotten nasty old clay, getting dirt under my nails, battling blackflies (fierce and bloodthirsty this week: I have several bites on my scalp the size of peanuts) and otherwise getting everything in order for the growing season. It’s actually been a good season so far. The rain has been generous, so everything is getting to a good start and the temperatures, while not exactly warm, haven’t been too cold either.

The business of this time of year makes me think of English and American gardening books, which often set out meticulous schedules of things to do by month.  English ones are particularly funny, advising as they do, to trim roses in February, and to plant fruit trees in December.  My highly simplified Canadian schedule looks like this:

January: Read seed catalogues over steaming cups of hot coffee.

May: Do everything else.

It’s an efficient system, and easy to remember.

Thus far I have dug out the perennial borders. My aim this year is to finally and completely eliminate the evil twitch grass once and for all. (I say this every year. One can hope.)  The vegetables I plan to plant out next weekend, if the weather warms up enough.  Luckily, in southern Ontario at least, we have a longish window of opportunity to plant vegetables: I’ve planted out as late as the middle of June with good results. As far as ornamentals go, I’m usually a perennial sort of person.  This year, though, I have a plot in my border about 30′ by 20′ which I dug last year, and I still haven’t decided what to plant in it.  So instead I shelled out forty-odd bucks for four flats of annuals (ridiculously cheap!), the sort your mum or Nan used to grow — coleus, love-lies-bleeding, snapdragons, zinnias, China asters, cosmos. Good sturdy virtuous old fashioned plants, gotten a bad rap from their ubiquitousness in hideous municipal plantings.  I avoided planting them all in serried ranks, like botanical soldiers facing an onslaught of insects and drought, choosing instead non-military irregular ovals and crescents —  the infamous “drifts of colour” garden writers talk about. But none of the plants I bought were available is separate colours, and thus I violated the Fundamental Law of garden design: mass colour for mass effect. There is nothing to make it hang together. So it’s going to either be an idiosyncratic, cheerful success or a garish horticultural mess.  One thing is certain, it will be bright.

The other things I planted were five more “antique” roses from Pickering Nurseries: ‘White Bath’ (Moss),  ‘Tour de Malakoff’ (Centifolia), ‘Baroness Rothchild’ and ‘Ulrich Brunner’ (Hybrid Perpetuals) and ‘Conrad F. Meyer’ (Rugosa).   I have to confess I am smitten with heritage roses, and I acquire them like Fafner hoarding gold.

‘Tour de Malakoff’ (Centifolia)

They are stunning in full bloom, fragrant, largely disease-free and certainly much less fussy in our climate than the hybrid teas, those fastidious and annoying aristocrats. The only disadvantage is many of them are non-recurrent; but I have planted these among some vigourously reblooming Austins (which I like almost as much: ‘Pat Austin’ and ‘Benjamin Britten’, for example, are very fine roses indeed.)

‘Paul Neyron’ (Hybrid Perpetual)          /              ‘Roseraie de l’Hay’ (Rugosa)

It’s a mystery to me why heritage cultivars aren’t more readily available since they are so well-suited (as roses go) to the Ontario climate, though to be fair, some family-owned nurseries carry a selection.  Maybe there’s a bit of a fetish for the byzantine genetics of hybrid teas, the rose of the florist’s bouquet, the standard against which all other roses are judged.  But for me, anyway, there is a lot of virtue and charm in the uncomplicated simplicity of a ‘Paul Neyron’ or a ‘Roseraie de l’Hay’.

Sweet Music

Some random reflections on listening to classical music driving to work:

Some pieces of music you greet like an old friend.  In this category are pieces like Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos (any of them), the first movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 and Respighi’s Ancient Airs and Dances.  Choral and vocal music is best for exalted feeling, though rarely heard: it is an enigma why Radio Two programmers think the style is so unpopular. Think of Handel’s “My heart is indicting” from The Coronation Anthems or his “I know that my Redeemer liveth”  from Messiah or even Elgar’s arrangememt of “Jerusalem.”  (I know, I know.) The same might be said for the “Contessa, perdono” sequence at the end of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro

Some pieces, alas, are ruined and tired, either from being overplayed on the radio or from unfortunate associations.  Pachelbel’s Canon (properly Canon and Gigue in D major)  probably heads this list, closely followed by Handel’s Entrance of the Queen of Sheba from Solomon.  The waltz from Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique is constantly played and  presented as “classical lite,”  bizarre given the macabre theme of the work as a whole.  All three pieces need to be banished from the playlists.  Mozart, beloved Mozart, is abused by the near-daily playing of the overture from Figaro.  If only they would skip a track and play the two opening numbers, the duets “Cinque, dieci” and “Se a caso madama”: two chocolate truffles in musical box of bons-bons.  Every CD of Ravel’s Bolero I woud gladly toss into the nearest ocean, because it is a insidiously stupid, repetitive piece of music — 340 bars of two themes! — and also because I associate it strongly with Bo Derek.  (Bolero’s repetition may not have been Ravel’s fault: he was suffering from the early stages of a form of dementia. Edward Blake’s10 came out in 1979, at the beginning of my misspent adolescence.  Being a young gay male, I was complete mystified [and admittedly a little disgusted] by my male classmates besotted fascination with her. It had something to do with her breasts, I believe.  Ms Derek, incidentally, was appointed by George Bush to the Board of Trustees of the Kennedy Center for the Peforming Arts, for talents yet to be disclosed. But I digress.) 

Another piece with similar bad movie karma is Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, used in The Bad News Bears (1976) — I hear the piece and all I see is Walter Matthau. It’s ugly. Very ugly.  Oddly, Richard Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra escapes the same fate, despite it’s close association with Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Maybe it’s because all we ever hear are the triumphant opening bars.  But Johann Strauss’s Blue Danube Waltz will forever be associated with spinning space stations, besides being classically kitschy.

Sometimes music redeems itself.  There was a fashion in the ’70 and ’80s, if one wanted to add “tone” to a film’s soundtrack, to insert something by Mozart, usually Serenade No. 13 for strings in G major, K. 525, a.k.a. Eine kleine Nachtmusik. Invariably performed in some leaden, icky, full-orchestra version, I disliked the piece intensely.  Until the other day, at least, when the allegro movement was played on Radio Two in a rendition by a small chamber ensemble, vigourously and sensitively.  It was like taking the mold and tarnish of a Michelangelo and seeing the real art underneath.  It was sweet. To say it was a fresh interpretation would be an understatement.  Unfortunately I didn’t catch the name of the orchestra.  I would be grateful for any enlightenment.


Our Sally Fields Moment

A month ago, a band of down-on-their-luck grifters and layabouts started a little blog called The Stray Dog Cafe.  Nineteen posts and 339 gallons of strong coffee later we have had 962 page views.  We are immensely gratified and excited about this. . . in fact. . .

Like Sally Fields, just more so

We are verklempt. We are emotionally floored. You like us. You really, really do. 

I have to get a tissue now, and daub my eyes before the mascara runs.

Obama, Hawking and the Search for Intelligent Life in the Universe

So I spent the week pissing around with a post.  I used up hours marshalling facts, arguments and raw data, pondering over whether this phrase or that represented le mot juste, and generally parsing nothing at all.  My opus major was to be on the topic of Islam and Europe, and the hysteria contained therein, and about how various right-wing writers aren’t so much concerned about Islam in Europe as finding another stick to beat the Left with (and being misongynist and xenophobic along the way.)  It’s a topic I find deeply interesting, and yet. . . the mojo wasn’t working on this one.  Maybe next week.

In the meantime the latest meme (or idiocy, take your pick) surfacing in the U.S. presidential campaign is that Barack Obama is the anti-christ.  Yeah, the real deal, with the name of the beast tattoed on his scalp and a strange, almost devilish, ability to lure superdelegates away from Hillary Clinton.   The proof is clear. It’s in the Bible, for all to see who can  — and people gone wacko over Revelations always somehow skip over all those inconvenient bits about loving your neighbour, giving your money to the poor, visiting the imprisoned, etc.  (Google Obama anti-christ and you will see myriad semi-literate examples. It’s pathological.)

In a related story, Stephen Hawking says, “Primitive life [in the Universe] is very common and intelligent life is fairly rare. Some would say it has yet to occur on Earth.”  Ha ha.  

Prof. Hawking was actually speaking on the need for humanity to get off the planet at a conderence in Washington.  It’s a fairly common theme, incidentally, of hard science fiction writers, like Stephen Baxter.  The argument being, it’s probably stupid of us to put all our eggs in one basket, i.e. the Earth, and the solar system could provide virtually unlimited resources for humanity.  Says Hawking:

People might well have argued it was a waste of money to send Columbus on a wild goose chase. Yet the discovery of the new world made profound difference to the old. Spreading out into space will have an even greater effect. It will completely change the future of the human race and maybe determine whether we have any future at all.


When Will the Horror End?

Two glorious days of real spring weather and we are all getting a little giddy. I’m spontaneously bursting into song, the turkey hen making come hither eyes at the toms, and even the horses are laying around in the sun. The Little Ouse River, normally so sluggish us locals call it the Little Ooze…

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On Vespa Mechanics

For anyone who owns a vintage Vespa (or a vintage anything for that matter) a good mechanic is worth his weight in gold. Vespas–not unlike their mechanics–are temperamental bikes at best and, as they age, become grumpy and delicate. Continue reading

The Dawning of the Age of Asparagus

Meanwhile, back in Peterborough County, winter has settled in for an extended engagement until mid-June, approximately, because we’re all enjoying it so much. The snow, which ought to be gone, or nearly so, stretches across the fields, an infinity of tiresome whiteness. No one can remember so much snow on the ground this late in the year… Continue reading