Finding the Joneses

by mantis-philes

David Letterman must have been the first place I heard the phrase, “jonesing”. I loved it. It doesn’t have a pretty connotation, but I applied it to everything, I was jonesing for a new plant, new shoes,  a great meal. Does that not set a scene?

I live in a neighborhood full of Joneses.  Big houses, fancy cars, vacation homes, portfolios.  Then there’s me.  The token hillbilly.  Driving cars until they’re dead. I’m usually found during the weekend with mud up to my eyeballs,  immersed in the ecstasy of the dance with Mother Nature, not going to the country club for brunch with the girls.  Popping out of bed at 7 on a Saturday, usually working straight through until 3 or 4 — when I would be prompted about lunch time.  I had a serious jones.  Nurseries, plant catalogs, gardening magazines.  Lists of the newest got-to-haves invading my iphone and my notebook.  I built big exuberant display pots, banana trees and cannas and elephant ears.  Show stoppers by themselves, over the top when crammed into a huge terra cotta vessel all together.  Figured out uses for repurposed items, old galvanized tubs, broken terra cotta, left over brick.

Come 2010, my jones died.  I looked at this space we had called paradise, our Eden and it was dust.   I forgot to water, plants over wintered were left too long and perished in the garage.  And I felt nothing.  In the day, I would have been bereft to have been responsible to for the loss of one of these companions.  While I was sorry for each loss, it was akin to hearing of the death of the 12th cousin by marriage twice removed.  Unfortunate, but it didn’t penetrate the armor.

I couldn’t look to the neighborhood and keep up with the Jones’, their Joneses were not mine. I had to find where my jones lived, entice it from its burrow.  Breath on its embers, beg for life.

So here I am, into two years of onesie-ism, crawling out of a tunnel whose length seems to change each day.  In the winter I concentrated on updating the house with projects deferred for years.  My game plan to move the house forward so I could concentrate on the garden come spring.  Spring came early,  oh, so early.  Way, way too early for the plan.

Spring came too warm, too fast.  80 degrees in March.  Bad form, Spring, this is just not done.  My midwestern perennials were too easily teased from short naps; fooled by the vagaries of weather not settled.  This was a spring for the record books.  I don’t want to imagine what July and August will deliver.

The garden pulled itself through two years of benevolent neglect. Drought. Apathy. Marauders.  There have been moments of exquisite beauty, 13 year old tree peonies kicking out their can-can skirted flowers over a four foot high bush.  Can’t stop them, don’t try.  Lost my lady slipper orchid due to drought, due to too warm temperatures, voles, moles, name a bad guy.  No sign of her. Exuent all.

But hellebores, oh my goodness, the hellebores were happy come February.  Busting out great drooping blooms of dusky pink and mourning purple, having grown great guns.  Became bushes instead of raggedy perennials.  Welcome back, friends.

I was hoping come May to have house projects over, garden projects to launch. The outcome not so much maintenance, but to rekindle the jones via total immersion.  Baptised in weed pulling and compost and planting strategies. Unfortunately, the floor contractors screwed up and I was still mopping up house duties at the end of May.  Delay led to delay.  Memorial week became the jumping off point.  Took a week to slip into the deep end, to try and tread water.  There was so much to do.  Japanese sedges had moved into Poland and Czechoslavakia like there were no borders, squeezing out more timid neighbors, some wiped off the map for good.  An upside of the sedge-icide was the finding of a beloved trowel, lost in the fall of 2009.  Beloved because my beloved had found and presented this much loved, much used tool.

Hot off the success of clearing the rampant sedge, no jonesing.  Pleased at the accomplishment, check, ready to garden at 7 in the morning?  Not so much.  What is the nature of jonesing after all?

I moved on to removal of thuggish garden trees, seedlings taking advantage of a back being turned. Sweet gum, red bud, maples and other unidentified interlopers.  Sucking up nutrients and bed space from the intended inhabitants.  Cleared.  Check. No jones, no forest.

Put together two small pots of coral and burgundy and pink.  Angel wing begonias, fuchsia, sweet potato vine, coleus crammed into terra cotta pedestals, viewable from the deck.  Like the old days.  Jones in absentia.

I took a whole weekend to prune and edit deadwood and errant branches from lilacs, roses of sharon, viburnum and nine bark.  Taking back a hedge one piece of dead wood at a time.  Lost my beloved’s japanese saw in the process.  Another lost implement, victim of my inattention.  Returned to me by a neighbor that hadn’t spoken since 2010.  Fallout from a too full garden cart, it landed in his side yard, found when mowing.  Two years of averted eyes and denial, forgiven by his return of a now rusty saw.  Hedge cleaned up, weeded and mulched.  Check.  No jones, not even a little.

I had to clean out a fence line to make way for the crew coming to put in its replacement.  Finally, a strong desire to edit.  Not only was the spidery web of self-pegging seven sisters roses history, so was the under-performing forsythia.  I needed to make room for the fence crew but also for the refugees from an island bed I no longer have the bandwidth to maintain.  Roses and irises and tree peonies, oh my.  All needing a new country to call their own.  Room must be  made; a plan must be hatched.  So the scorched earth of the fence line will be back filled with cousins from across the yard.  No cost but the muscle and the time to move them.  Jones? Now we’re talking, at least a little. No one left behind.

Plotting and planning the move from campuchia, check.  Still no “jones”, but closer maybe.  Assessing what is the right refugee for the each open space, timing on when to engender as little damage to the migrant, worry that some might not make it, despite my best effort. This is movement in a positive direction.  But no 7 a.m. clarion calls.  Not yet.  But closer.

I fall back on my favorite gardening magazine, Fine Gardening.  Porn for the gardener.  Beautiful plants, beautiful lay outs, beautiful photography.  I skim articles but can’t engage; proof is in the consuming need for some new perennial introduction.  I have no desire for acquisitions, no lovely new variegated introduction, some dusky purple leaved got to have.  It’s all beautiful; my eye can appreciate the planting schemes and the interplay of texture and color and shape.  But nothing to make me part coin.

Still many projects to do — rescue hostas from a too exuberant variegated myrtle, must be done before the hostas are smothered, building a water feature from a handful of repurposed items, halfway there.  Clean out and convert a shed/workshop to a more garden-friendly space, figure out a use for the old rescued clay chimney flues, discarded by a friend.

What is the nature of jonesing?  There are embers, not yet sparks.  Can fire be rekindled, if nurtured?  In the classic use of the word jones, I would be looking for the next hit, the next high.  In my use of jones, I am looking for the rebloom of stewardship, kinship with my garden denizens.  A stewardship so overwhelming it propels me out of the bed at 7 just to see what’s happened over night, make a new mark on my queendom.  Scratch an itch only reachable by filling a void in vegetation, providing better garden neighbors, tweaking plant combinations, improving hardscape, enabling a vision.

Where there are embers, will there be flames?  I have hope.  After all, it’s why I garden, it’s why I’ve always gardened.  Gardeners are driven not by what is on the list for today, but by the vision of tomorrow.  A vision full of leaf and light and hope.

Come visit sometime.  You might meet the jones.

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