Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Midnight Gardener Gardens Always

Butch mentioned my "wee lanterns" in a comment the other day--you may have noted an assortment of them in different backgrounds. There are five, hanging from cuphooks in the western end of each section of the fence. Each one takes a tea candle (one of those little tin cup candles, burning time about 3-5 hours each, depending on conditions. Don't ask, I just know.) and cast a small amber glow.

After a few seasons out in the elements, these guys are deserving of a scraping and repainting, maybe this time in a uniform black...though I've always been fond of the random colors. We'll see. They add a nice counterbalance in tone of light to the solar lights, which are great, but cast a very cold blue light. I need to find some solar lights with amber LEDs, instead of the so-called white.

As the solstice approaches and the evenings get longest, I love to have all kinds of candles nestled in the garden as lingering dusk starts to fade. Most nights I do it, it's not simply a utilitarian function, but more a spiritual activity. Maybe I feel like I'm lighting the way to welcome the magical sprites and fairies of the midsummer garden, shining a beacon to call the attention of all the gods and goddesses who might ever have existed, to beg their blessing on my efforts here.

Perhaps it's like lighting the theatre for some unadvertised presentation of A Midsummer Nights Dream, as performed by moths and butterflies and june bugs and snails and chipmunks.

At the very least, there's nothing more magical than that deeply red-purple-orange sky above a garden lit with fireflies and candles. Or maybe it's just an excuse to stretch the long days a little further and stay out there a little longer, admiring, examining, watching, listening.

Tonight...this morning, really, I lit the candles after midnight. It's 60 degrees and the full moon's sliding in and out of clouds which are creeping in from the west. Even with that, the clouds glow with the moon's light.

There's a fifty percent chance of showers before dawn. Although of course I am fifty percent closer to dawn than I was when I read that forecast, so I'm not sure what that means, exactly.

But anyway, the air is heavy with the scent of roses. Every now and then a long, slow easy gust moves the treetops behind the house. They hang for a minute in the gust, and then rebound back to their original positions, as lazily. A gentle rustling tickles the flowered air.

And here I am, earning the nickname, Midnight Gardener, as I shine my flashlight down into the garden bed, crouching at one place...and then another.

There's so much to see. Something about focusing your attention with the small cone of light from the flashlight maybe. Perhaps its clearer thinking for the cooler night air; either way you notice more.

The difference in foliage that reveals a bit of bindweed is creeping inside another plant, or a bit of wide-bladed grass is masquerading as an iris leaf...that sort of thing. The real weeds are a bit more obvious.

But there's also another side to the garden community. If you weren't out with a flashlight after dark, you wouldn't get to see the little moths flitting in the dark between blossoms. How would you know that it's a fat-ass June Bug that's been munching on the leaves of the morning glory?

A few dianthus clumps to the west, past the fourth white allyssum and back a little...alongside a nice big stand of rudbeckia, there's an anthill. For them, the rudbeckia may as well be a sequoia forest.

They are the tiniest ones, brown. And there's lots of them scurrying in and out of the anthole they've concealed under the curved awning of a broken clamshell fragment. There's a sulphur cosmos seedling in their side yard which will quickly tower above them, and a low hedge of everlastings at the front of their property which will likely do the same, at least on their scale.

It's good to know where they are, since it could be less than pleasant to accidentally disturb them some weeding afternoon in the future. I'll try hard not to, though. I can easily see their place in the garden. As they dig out their tunnels, they bring soil from down below up to the surface.

As they live their lives, they're bringing all sorts of organic material down into the ground. Actually, they're working for me, if I can let them be...keeping everything fresh in their little micro-world. Plus these are the little guys who are the ones who stroke open the peony blossoms, when blossom they do.

The ants climb the massive peony flower stalks, the garden world equivalent of the steelworker, braving gale force winds way up the sky, gathering the nectar that oozes from the flowers. As they do and the petals dry, they unfurl. It's really quite cool...but I'm not obsessing about the peonies not blooming or anything. Just because the guys down the street have a whole fenceful of them. I'm just saying, that's all.

I slide the flashlight beam along each stalk of lily in the different parts of the garden, looking closely for flashes of red. It really feels quite remarkable and exciting that I've not seen (knocking on wood, or something similar, like my head for being up so late, eh?)any of those rotten red lily leaf beetles. Perhaps they are not a problem here in Harwich, or maybe it's just that lilies haven't been grown right here before. I'll remain vigilant just the same.

I give a daisy stem a tap, watching the tremor dislodge and fling an earwig into the darkness. I think those guys are pretty gross, but I guess they have their place in the scheme of things. I'll have to research this and see just what job they're meant to be doing out there.

I find another fat-ass June bug climbing the side of one of the asiatic lilies and I flick him away. I know he'll probably find his way back, but he might be easily distracted by some lesser flower. They don't strike me as the sort who have exceptionally long memories, though I could easily be wrong. Who'd have guessed about the elephant at first glance?

Okay, there's some serious bird song firing up out there on Not Wisteria Lane. The house sparrows started the quiet twittering. But now the cardinal's joined in and I can see the palest gray cast to the sky that's not from the full moon, the sun's on the move...and off to bed I go!


Butch said...

Ah...a midsummer night's dream. I have a beautiful picture of a maiden standing amongst the faeries almost in a faerie ring with her bent over conversing with them. I'll have to pull it out and find out who painted it. I love looking at painting like that.

Your lanterns are starting to develope their own characters being out in the elements. Perhaps, it is a patina they wear and cleaning them up would destroy that look. By the way I love that picture of it lighted and illuminating your garden.

Greg said...

I think you may be right about the lanterns--after all, one man's rust is another man's patina!! They are inexpensive enough that you've helped me decide not to worry about them so (what were the odds I was going to take them all down and sand and repaint them, anyway!!).

I'd been meaning to feature one or more of them illuminated for a while now--it's getting to be that time of year when I light them more and more (tho they are fun on a snowy night, too!). When you mentioned seeing them, I could hardly resist!!

I have surprised many a neighbor with my "fairy lights" in the garden...I hope that someone on Not Wisteria Lane arose early enough to see them still glowing as the sun came up in the east this morning!!

Anonymous said...

I picture larger and larger gardens of life on your property that are as vast as the sky. And there are times I can picture where you are at the time you are describing what you're looking at. Here's to the equinox on the 21st with a late night sky and lanterns ever-glowing!

art said...

Wow this was really beautiful. I'm not sure I'll be outside after midnight, but this is making me thinking about the entire day and night of my garden. thank you for that.
And I love looking at all the pictures of your plants.

Oh and amber solar lights! try these:

I bought a couple of these last year and love them.

Greg said...

Thanks, Afod--that's nice to hear (that my words help you picture it)! I'm always wanting to take you all along for my garden strolls...I actually tried a bit of video during the midnight explorations, but no time to play with the raw footage yet!

Art, glad to have you along, too!! Please don't think I'm out there in the garden after midnight EVERY night...often, by then, I'm at the computer, putting together the day's narrative!

But now and then, it's very cool to go out there and see just what goes on under cover of darkness!

THANKS (many of them) for that link--those lanterns are beautiful--way more than just functional. I'll add them on my wish list and see what comes of it.

Patrick said...

What a fantastic summer ritual, lighting lanterns and candles throughout the garden. I have no doubt the faery folk feel welcome in your garden, and spend every night in 'dances and delights'. How funny that certain weeds would become more obvious in the light of a flashlight... or that you'd discover some of your insect allies. Ants work all night? I had no idea.
A wonderful solstice celebration, Greg.

Greg said...

The ants surprised me, too! You really never know what's going on out there in the dark until you look!

Curt Rogers said...

A long time ago in one high school or college journal or another, I once wrote, "By the sun I am blind, by the moon I am transparent. Only by candlelight do I feel whole."

This is a beautiful post, Greg. I've read it several times and this time I really had to comment. I love your sense of discovery, even with those things you know so intimately, having planted and cultivated and nourished them along.


Greg said...

What beautiful words, Curt. It seems your lovely garden is found in your notebooks! Thank you for sharing that.

I've always loved candlelight and have perhaps entirely too many votive holders cluttering up the house. From a practical standpoint, candlelight is cheaper than electricity...but I just love the glow and the flicker and everything about it.