Paging Philip Slayton: The PG-13 Edition

Beach Meadows, May 30, 2020
Dear Philip,
Thanks for the  NY Times piece on weeds: T’is the season and I had  made a point of photographing as many as I could when I was shooting in the gardens, thinking it would be a good blog post (and an excuse for me to finally research and learn the ones I wasn’t familiar with; then your email).  But other things started to happen and I’ve put that idea aside for the moment. Like death and taxes, those weeds will be there waiting.

Roadside garden with daffodils

The last rudbeckia standing and the skeletal remains of hydrangea

May is turning out to be one of the most unpredictable months in the gardens. Never the same way twice and this probably has something do with climate change and weather patterns and a concomitant change in garden zones.  At any rate, what started out to be, and is still, by and large a lush spring is suddenly starting to shift to what we might see in August: A dry cracked dustbowl. We need rain and lots of it. 

A parched seaside garden

You are probably aware of the forest fires that hit a number of spots in Nova Scotia  these past two weeks. We had so much rain end of April and start of May that I had to wonder what that was about. There was snow in January and some in February but clearly not enough to mitigate the dry spells that we’ve become accustomed to here on the South Shore of Nova Scotia where dug wells dry out with regularity these past few years. This makes living, never mind gardening tricky. Do you remember I had to run hoses from the cottage to the pump house well at the main house so we could water? What was a contingency plan might now be a scheduled event: We were supposed to get rain last night but I woke up to a dry landscape. Not a drop as far as I can tell. 

Seaside garden rethink with sea holly (eryngium) and Russian sage (perovskia atriplicifolia)

One of your favourites: the pea shrub over the course of the month!

I’m fond of sea holly for many reasons but mostly because they are beautiful plants both in colour and structure; because my deep throated Darth Vader pronunciation of Eryngium – the botanical name- makes you laugh and makes me miss our garden banter (more on that in a bit) but also because it’s hard not to think of eryngium without thinking of Miss Willmott’s Ghost and then, of course, Ellen Willmott, famous gardener for whom the plant is named. Peter Mushkat told me she would have a pocket of sea holly seeds and scatter them where ever she went, leaving gardeners with her legacy whether they liked it or not. There’s a great essay on Ellen Willmott, her wild life and gardens, well worth the read, here:

Wall cress (arabis variegata) with a pollinating visitor
Our little reader in the circle garden with Montauk daisy, silver mound artemisia, and tangy spurge (euphorbia). Two of three Big Blue sea holly survived the winter around the bend in this garden.

Even though I’ve not written in a while, I have been photographing as I garden and as expected the butterbur have morphed. I think I will post the transition photos when I write about the beautiful woodland gardens later this week but thought I’d include a little teaser here:

Sometimes I catch myself wandering around, observing and remembering with fondness some of our exchanges which have become part of our repertoire, inside baseball that would probably amuse only us (fothergilla anyone?)  I look at the lovage and think what a good sport you are to taste this, under duress, year after year when I suggest to you that lovage is not just good but good for you! I still say eryngium in my best Darth Vader but it hangs, slow and throaty like a some forlorn amphibian mating call. Where are you Philip Slayton? Which brings me to the PG-13 segment of this post…

A budding witch alder or fothergilla, one of my very favourite shrubs !

A friend remarked on how amusing the pg-13 ratings were on Netflix: sex, violence, gore (?!) and smoking (?!!) This prompted me to pay closer attention and I was cautioned to prepare for ” brief smoking” presumably following even briefer sex which made me laugh and I thought of it again later while gardening: A spring-time jaunt in nature could launch me into a full-blown pack a day habit. Yes, it is dry but there are things in the garden that are lush, even lusty that belie the current parched conditions. The ajuga are alive with pollinating bees, birds and butterflies are “doing it” unabashedly in front of me and often in mid-air. And some of the plants are enough to make some people blush. But not us! I never tire of the wonder of this new growth but I find myself looking sideways, smiling, maybe even smirking but you’re not there. Who is there to share this with? Where is the soft elbow to the rib, the shoulder nudge?  So permit to me to include some unredacted photos as I sign off, knowing you will be here soon and we can resume our strolls and general garden mischief and mayhem. Sending love to you and Cynthia and of course, Misty, too. See you soon! Lynn

p.s. We have Cardoon! They are not photogenic yet but surely more on them to come!


My dear Lynn,

PG-13 for gardening? Interesting. 

Out of curiosity, I googled “gardening and sex.” 117 million hits! You’re on to something. My favourite of the few I looked at was a 2003 article in The Guardian entitled “Sex in the Shrubbery.” Here’s a few provocative lines from that piece: 

            There is an odd, subversive book called The Decadent Gardener by Medlar Lucan and Durian Gray. The introduction describes the decadent gardening ethos thus: “In the garden, the decadent seeks to create a  moment of beauty, which should then be allowed to fall into decay and ruin.”

            “Gardening”, Lucan and Gray believe, is “little more than systematic violence in pursuit of beauty”, and the gardener is first and foremost a sadist. These two, the Kropotkin and De Sade of horticulture, understand  that “nowhere are sex and death more intimately bound together than in the garden”.

Rachel’s floral (?) centerpiece which I have entitled “Schwartz is dead!”
No doubt a knife was involved …

Okay, on to other matters (blushing slightly). 

You mention weeds. What is a weed? A plant that is not wanted. One that is in the wrong place. Could be a dandelion. Could be a peony. Can you call a person in the wrong place “a weed”? An Australian dictionary says “weed” is a word used to describe, (1) a weak, puny person, and (2) a surfer. And then, of course, there’s weed.

More on weeds later but here’s some lovely Itoh peony foliage for now to soothe us after the rhubarb.

I’m worried about how dry everything is, and what we may have to do to fight dryness in the gardens. I remember well how it was the last few summers. I mentioned what they were like in the chapter on climate change in my new book, Nothing Left to Lose: “I was at my house on Nova Scotia’s south shore where we were experiencing the third year of a drought. Wells were running dry. People were going to community centres for a shower. Municipalities were handing out jugs of drinking water. My pond, which for twenty years had been a sylvan haven for ducks, herons and otters, had gone dry for the second year in a row, and was now just a bowl of mud. Extreme storm surges leading to flooding were becoming routine, and wild winds (hurricanes, sometimes) frequently knocked out power. Shorebirds and bats were disappearing, replaced by deer ticks and mosquitoes.” Is this year going to be a repeat. Where does it all end? Meanwhile, as you suggest, to be practical and not apocalyptic, let’s rethink the seaside garden.

Soon we will be together in the garden again, bantering, nudging, smiling, smirking, sharing. 

All praise cardoon!

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