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Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Gardener's Diary Archive: Spring evening, after a rain, June 2, 2015

Brought to England in the eighteenth century, and from there to America, the Cape-jasmine, Gardenia jasminoides, has become almost as much a part of our South as of the Cape of Good Hope. I have even found it growing along the roadside in South Carolina.

-Elizabeth Lawrence, A Southern Garden

I clipped these blossoms yesterday; they come from the large, tall gardenia in the front yard of one of my neighbors. It grows five feet tall, and probably fifteen feet in diameter, in solitary splendor, defying all the rules of placement for the bush. It is in our universal, hard, clay soil; there is no shade in sight. It gets sun pretty much morning to night.

And yet it blooms.

Our long dry streak broke today; it was the third driest May in the area since 1878. We had .6 of an inch in two hours, and the earth rejoiced. There were rumblings of a second wave in the afternoon, but they came to nought. Still, it was a glad time, hearing the steady drum of rain on the roof. My rain barrel is full again.

The absence of rain aside, it has been a pretty mild spring so far. Humidity on the light side most days; temperatures in the low 80s. The last few days both spiked like a fever, and one of my potato plants died. I gave the ground a good soak yesterday while getting a bunch of other yard tasks done. The television weather personalities were making it out like a rain of pharaonic-plague proportions was coming; reducing the direness by 2/3, I still figured I'd best get as much done outside as I could. And sure enough, today was an indoor-task day. Much cleaning, sifting and sorting, and my back has been voicing its objections all the evening long.

My bearded irises are either waiting for a really late entrance to the dance, or are taking the summer off. I dug them up from an area next to the house where, long grown over by weeds in the time the house was empty, they bided their time, and over which a deck was about to be built.

To see what I could get, I planted them in a very shady front bed, where they are now 18 inches to two feet tall, and not a sign of a flower anywhere. But they have all come up- 34 of them- and once they die back I have a sunnier spot with better soil- an old herb garden bed I dug out of the backyard weeds, where some tulips and grape hyacinth surprised me this spring. Both were joy in bloom, but what a Lord Marchmain-length death scene they put on, and what a mess they leave behind. Ditto the spanish bluebells in the front sidewalk bed, planted with a logic no man can discern. I have a long list of transplanting scheduled for September and October.

The bluebirds and mockingbirds seems to have graduated their young from flight school and left the area; the robins rule their roost in my front yard, the avian Charles II, restored to their London. An orchard oriole turned up the other day; common enough in the area, but the first in my precincts. Since I started conscientiously birding in the winter, 29 species have dropped in for a chat.

Early evening started, about a week ago, bringing out the fireflies- or, as I used to hear in childhood in the Sandhill Country, "lightning bugs." According to some regional usage studies, I now live right on the line where eastern North Carolina's lightning bugs get all gussied up and hit Charlotte as fireflies, proceeding onward from here to the resorts of the Smokies and, eventually to Nashville and Memphis and the real bright lights of the night.

Watching the bugs hover, UFO-like, in the air this year put me, suddenly and clearly, in mind of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Such a mystery they must have seemed in the era before science became, first, a know-it-all; then, a crackpot conspiracist. Arthur Rackham has an illustration that approximates my backyard reveries, stars and lightning bugs mingling among the tree branches:

Rackham loved the mysterious side of the summer night; his contemporary, Arthur Conan Doyle, was never more Watson-on-a-bad-day than when trying to catch fairies on photographic plates, using Holmes' most up-to-date scientific methods. There's always a killjoy, even when he claims he just wants to show everyone else the magic is real.

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