Fröhliche Fruhling Zeit! Happy Spring! Joyeux Printemps!

Taters, Precious

The Ruby Throated Hummingbirds are back, from their winter vacation. Though we will probably have one of our notorious late frosts, I’m prepared for it. Floating row covers are arriving today.

Our dilapidated, abandoned, old garden is suddenly back to life. It still looks like a landfill, with my cardboard box mulch, but we have had two things–enough rain, and endless amounts of chicken manure. Add those two together, and you end up with taters like those in the above picture. They are now on a diet of fish emulsion fertilizer.

Pasta Time

Forty something garlic plants should do us for a while. And then there is their cousin.

Elephant Garlic

This is not really a garlic, but the bulb just tastes like one. It is a sub-species of the garden leek, and grows like mad. Many of these were volunteer plants. Now for something completely different.

Asparagus Galore

Fifty something shoots of asparagus from about as many crowns. I know there are more coming. If they freeze to the ground, they will just re-sprout. It has happened before.

Almost eighty degrees today, and freezing temps forecast for Thursday night. Over eleven inches of rain so far this month, with more coming tomorrow. Just another typical Appalachian Spring.

Great Garden Poems, Part Six–Loveliest of Trees, by A. E. Housman

One of the greatest classical scholars, A. E. Housman truly brought the Roman pastoral tradition back to England. I never really liked this poem until I heard it sung by the Welsh baritone Bryn Terfel. It’s a killer set to music.

Loveliest of Trees

A. E. Housman – 1859-1936

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

OK, a token Easter poem. I just love everything Housman wrote, except for the things in Latin. Melanie Jane minored in Latin at UI, but I spent my time trying to think in English, French, and German, at the same time. And my native language is Southern.

Great Garden Poems, Part Five–The Sick Rose, by William Blake

Back to Blake’s garden again, where he and Catherine liked to hang out naked. I swear that I am fully clothed, as this one sounds like a really bad trip.

The Sick Rose

BY WILLIAM BLAKE

O Rose thou art sick. 
The invisible worm, 
That flies in the night 
In the howling storm: 

Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy:
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.

I always hate it when those invisible worms show up. The only thing worse are invisible politicians.

Rooster Auction Leads to a Bridge in Alabama, 1919 Edition

You think we have big chicken now? A chicken auction in 1919 in Demopolis, Alabama, ended with pledges of more than 200,000 1919 dollars, in order to build a bridge across the Tombigbee River. Not all the money was collected, but it turned out to have been an international effort, involving the US, France, Italy, and the UK. Now that is big chicken.

An issue that President Wilson brought up at the Versailles peace conference that concluded the war to end all wars (sure), was, who wanted to send a rooster to Alabama? The PM’s of France, Italy, and the UK, were all in. The European roosters shipped to DC on a US warship, and the Alabama congressional delegation were there to meet them when they arrived.

Wilson himself donated a rooster, which sold for $44,000. Helen Keller, who is still our most famous person, donated a hen instead. The mastermind behind the whole thing was a farmer from Demopolis named Frank Derby. He had raised $100,000 for the Red Cross in 1917, by auctioning off cattle. He said the idea was ‘to bridge the ‘Bigbee with cocks.’ Maybe not the best word choice.

Word choice or not, the idea worked. The bridge was the last link of a pet project for Wilson, which was a transcontinental road from Savannah to San Diego. The new bridge, that replaced the old one, is still called the Chicken Bridge.

Thanks to various archives and AL.com for this vitally important story. At least the sailors an the warship transporting the chickens woke up on time, every day. They didn’t have much choice.

Great Garden Poems, Part Four–The Garden of Love, by William Blake

Illuminated Manuscript

William Blake loved his small garden in London. In fact, he loved it so much, that when one of his friends visited, he found Blake and Blake’s wife Catherine out in the garden, reciting poetry to each other–buck naked. They were reciting Paradise Lost, with Blake as Adam and Catherine as Eve. They must have been method actors as well.

At any rate, here’s a twelve line version of Paradise Lost.

The Garden of Love

BY WILLIAM BLAKE

I went to the Garden of Love,
And saw what I never had seen:
A Chapel was built in the midst,
Where I used to play on the green.

And the gates of this Chapel were shut,
And Thou shalt not. writ over the door;
So I turn’d to the Garden of Love,
That so many sweet flowers bore. 

And I saw it was filled with graves,
And tomb-stones where flowers should be:
And Priests in black gowns, were walking their rounds,
And binding with briars, my joys & desires.

Blake is also considered by many to be the best English graphic artist, and I would name him as the GOAT English poet. His circle of London radicals included his close friend Thomas Paine, who was also a friend of Mr. Jefferson, and Mary Wollstonecraft, who wrote the revolutionary Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Blake did the illustrations for her earlier book of children’s stories.

This poem is what Russian Formalist critics called condensed language, as it can be unfolded almost forever. And it may well be.

Home Cooking Equals Homemade Meth–in Montana

Meanwhile, back to the department of I wish I could make this stuff up. The following gem about home cooking came from an honest to god US Senator, who apparently misses the days of home cooked meth.

Senator Steve Daines gave the following speech twice this week, so it was no slip of the tongue. Here is an exact quote:

“20 years ago in Montana, meth was homemade – it was home grown. It had purity levels less than 30 percent. Today, the meth that is getting into Montana is Mexican cartel.”

Doesn’t sound much like Neil Young’s song “Homegrown,” so I will quote one of my favorite Reggae songs instead, “Junk Food.” “It was like your Granny’s cooking.”

I think the Senator’s speechwriter is named Walter White. I always suspected that he faked his own death.

One Weird Trick for Growing More Taters, Precious

A Weird Trick Tater

I really could not resist that clickbait headline, but, as usual, I have to de-bunk the gardening experts on the interwebs, who say that you absolutely have to buy certified seed taters, instead of supermarket ones. The trick is knowing what supermarket taters to buy.

It’s really only simple science. Standard commercially grown potatoes are sprayed with a growth retardant to prolong shelf life, namely isopropyl N-(3-chlorophenyl) carbamate (CIPC also referred as chlorpropham). It’s actually a herbicide that was introduced in 1951. Pass me the herbicide coated spuds, mom.

No thanks. Certified organic taters sprout like crazy, as in the one pictured above. I took that photo this morning. The only tricks are good soil, compost, and plenty of water–try 9.8″ of rain in the past ten days. In other words, good growing techniques.

You can also Save a Few of those Taters as Seed

This strapping young plant grew from a foot long sprout from a supermarket potato I planted last year. Eight plants came up from a single sprout. Nothing beats free organic taters.

Spargelzeit (Asparagus Time)

Maybe free Asparagus does. This one year plant came from some nice crowns I just bought. All it has to do is get fat and happy over the next couple of years.

I really should get rid of all those bi-colored wild violets in the patch, but they’re blooming now. I guess I’m just a sucker for a pretty flower, and possibly for a pretty face.

Great Garden Poems, Part Three–The Mower against Gardens, by Andrew Marvell

This poem by Marvell is not as famous as the one about the “vegetable love” he had for his coy mistress, but it puts formal gardens in their place. That would be last in line.

The Mower against Gardens

BY ANDREW MARVELL

Luxurious man, to bring his vice in use,
Did after him the world seduce,
And from the fields the flowers and plants allure,
Where nature was most plain and pure.
He first enclosed within the gardens square
A dead and standing pool of air,
And a more luscious earth for them did knead,
Which stupified them while it fed.
The pink grew then as double as his mind;
The nutriment did change the kind.
With strange perfumes he did the roses taint,
And flowers themselves were taught to paint.
The tulip, white, did for complexion seek,
And learned to interline its cheek:
Its onion root they then so high did hold,
That one was for a meadow sold.
Another world was searched, through oceans new,
To find the Marvel of Peru.
And yet these rarities might be allowed
To man, that sovereign thing and proud,
Had he not dealt between the bark and tree,
Forbidden mixtures there to see.
No plant now knew the stock from which it came;
He grafts upon the wild the tame:
That th’ uncertain and adulterate fruit
Might put the palate in dispute.
His green seraglio has its eunuchs too,
Lest any tyrant him outdo.
And in the cherry he does nature vex,
To procreate without a sex.
’Tis all enforced, the fountain and the grot,
While the sweet fields do lie forgot:
Where willing nature does to all dispense
A wild and fragrant innocence:
And fauns and fairies do the meadows till,
More by their presence than their skill.
Their statues, polished by some ancient hand,
May to adorn the gardens stand:
But howsoe’er the figures do excel,
The gods themselves with us do dwell.

Now that is how you end a poem.

Great Garden Poems, Part Two–This Compost, By Walt Whitman

I have gardening poems lined up like people trying to get a Covid vaccine, or folks trying to vote in Georgia. Here’s a masterpiece by Walter Whitman, from NY.

This Compost

Walt Whitman – 1819-1892

1

Something startles me where I thought I was safest,
I withdraw from the still woods I loved,
I will not go now on the pastures to walk,
I will not strip the clothes from my body to meet my lover the sea,
I will not touch my flesh to the earth as to other flesh to renew me.

O how can it be that the ground itself does not sicken?
How can you be alive you growths of spring?
How can you furnish health you blood of herbs, roots, orchards, grain?
Are they not continually putting distemper’d corpses within you?
Is not every continent work’d over and over with sour dead?

Where have you disposed of their carcasses?
Those drunkards and gluttons of so many generations?
Where have you drawn off all the foul liquid and meat?
I do not see any of it upon you to-day, or perhaps I am deceiv’d,
I will run a furrow with my plough, I will press my spade through the sod and turn it up underneath,
I am sure I shall expose some of the foul meat.

2

Behold this compost! behold it well!
Perhaps every mite has once form’d part of a sick person—yet behold!
The grass of spring covers the prairies,
The bean bursts noiselessly through the mould in the garden,
The delicate spear of the onion pierces upward,
The apple-buds cluster together on the apple-branches,
The resurrection of the wheat appears with pale visage out of its graves,
The tinge awakes over the willow-tree and the mulberry-tree,
The he-birds carol mornings and evenings while the she-birds sit on their nests,
The young of poultry break through the hatch’d eggs,
The new-born of animals appear, the calf is dropt from the cow, the colt from the mare,
Out of its little hill faithfully rise the potato’s dark green leaves,
Out of its hill rises the yellow maize-stalk, the lilacs bloom in the dooryards,
The summer growth is innocent and disdainful above all those strata of sour dead.

What chemistry!
That the winds are really not infectious,
That this is no cheat, this transparent green-wash of the sea which is so amorous after me,
That it is safe to allow it to lick my naked body all over with its tongues,
That it will not endanger me with the fevers that have deposited themselves in it,
That all is clean forever and forever,
That the cool drink from the well tastes so good,
That blackberries are so flavorous and juicy,
That the fruits of the apple-orchard and the orange-orchard, that melons, grapes, peaches, plums, will
   none of them poison me,
That when I recline on the grass I do not catch any disease,
Though probably every spear of grass rises out of what was once a catching disease.

Now I am terrified at the Earth, it is that calm and patient,
It grows such sweet things out of such corruptions,
It turns harmless and stainless on its axis, with such endless successions of diseas’d corpses,
It distills such exquisite winds out of such infused fetor,
It renews with such unwitting looks its prodigal, annual, sumptuous crops,
It gives such divine materials to men, and accepts such leavings from them at last.

Now that is a recycling poem. Walt, the GOAT? He gets my vote, though I call a tie between him and Miss Emily Dickinson.

Great Garden Poems, Part One–Down By the Salley Gardens, by William Butler Yeats

A combo/poem song, by the great Irish poet. Enjoy.

Down by the Salley Gardens

Down by the salley gardens
   my love and I did meet;
She passed the salley gardens
   with little snow-white feet.
She bid me take love easy,
   as the leaves grow on the tree;
But I, being young and foolish,
   with her would not agree.

In a field by the river
   my love and I did stand,
And on my leaning shoulder
   she laid her snow-white hand.
She bid me take life easy,
   as the grass grows on the weirs;
But I was young and foolish,
   and now am full of tears.

No “Rough Beasts” “Slouching toward Bethlehem” in this one, Yeats fans. Just a great song. A superb recording of this song was made by the Irish family group Clannad. You’ll love their lead singer, whose sister happened to be named Enya.