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Posts Tagged ‘gardening’

Staff Picks: The Hatred of Music, the Love of Phlox

April 8, 2016 | by

From the cover of The Hatred of Music.

I love music, but I like to hear both sides of an argument, so I picked up Pascal Quignard’s The Hatred of Music: ten treatises about the danger in listening. Quignard, himself an accomplished listener, aims “to convey to what point music can become an object of hatred to someone who once adored it beyond measure.” In his crosshairs is not so much music itself but the omnipresence of sound, which has, he argues, metastasized into a force of death more than of life. Quignard can be ponderous—you can imagine him plugging his ears at a Selena Gomez concert—but I can’t deny the depth of his thinking, to say nothing of his gift for aphorism. (“Everything is covered in blood related to sound”; “Rhythm holds man and attaches him like a skin on a drum”; “Concert halls are inveterate caves whose god is time.”) As a kind of lyrical discourse on how we hear, The Hatred of Music belongs on the shelf next to Hillel Schwartz’s Making Noise. The second treatise, “It So Happens that Ears Have No Eyelids,” offers this: “What is seen can be abolished by the eyelids, can be stopped by partitions or curtains, can be rendered immediately inaccessible by walls. What is heard knows neither eyelids, nor partitions, neither curtains, nor walls. Undelimitable, it is impossible to protect oneself from it … Sound rushes in. It violates.” I read those words on the subway, as the train groaned into a turn and EDM bled from my neighbor’s headphones. —Dan Piepenbring

Every winter and spring, I receive reams of garden and seed catalogues. Perusing them is, for me, akin to reading a good book and requires that I find a quiet, comfortable spot and consider each page with care. The photographs and copy vary in quality from catalogue to catalogue (I have my favorites), but each nevertheless brings what Katharine White calls “dreams of garden glory.” White became The New Yorker’s first fiction editor in 1925; three years later, the magazine published her first entry in the “Onward and Upward in the Garden” column, in which she wrote on seed and nursery catalogues, gardening books, and her own amateur attempts at floriculture. Last year, New York Review Books collected her fourteen columns. I recognize myself in much of what she writes: when, for instance, she cannot bring herself to stop acquiring plants or when she feels at once cheated and culpable for a plant’s failure to thrive. Mostly, though, I enjoy the moments in which she writes appreciatively of garden life: “Today I’d like nothing more strenuous than to sit still and admire the huge heads of phlox that the wet season has produced in the perennial borders and watch the bees sipping nectar from the poisonous monkshood and plundering the lavender spikes of the veronicas.” —Nicole Rudick Read More »

The Room of Flowers

February 4, 2016 | by

Childe Hassam, The Room of Flowers, 1894.

I am fully and intensely aware that plants are conscious of love and respond to it as they do to nothing else. —Celia Thaxter 

Last year, I picked up a book called An Island Garden by Celia Thaxter. I’m not interested in gardening—I can’t keep a plant alive—but I’d loved her Among the Isles of the Shoals, a sort of informal travelogue. An Island Garden conjures the same passion for a remote and challenging and fiercely beloved place. It evokes a sense of belonging, too. Read More »

How I Got Millayed

October 22, 2015 | by

A day in Edna St. Vincent Millay’s gardens at Steepletop.

Millay at Mitchell Kennerly’s house in Mamaroneck, New York, 1914.

In high school, I had a simple assignment to write a report on a poet. I searched aimlessly for the right one: more than a poet of some specific literary achievement, I wanted one who had died by suicide. Not to say I was a morbid teen—I was just fascinated by the arresting drama of that narrative. Strangely, my search led me to the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, which was poor research: she didn’t kill herself. She fell down the stairs of her home at Steepletop very early on the morning of October 19, 1950, sixty-five years ago this week. And if you believe the coroners, she suffered a heart attack first. I chose her anyway.

I read as many of her poems as I could find, printing out my favorites—like “Afternoon on a Hill,” “Witch-Wife,” and “The Little Ghost”—in colorful, elaborate fonts and hanging them on my bedroom wall alongside photos of Millay. Poetry had never spoken to me before. It had always left me feeling like an outsider—an especially undesirable experience for an adolescent. But reading Millay was a new kind of encounter. Her work was understandable, relatable: melodic, even. When other kids were putting up posters of shirtless pop stars, I was taping up photos of Millay with tousled hair, laying in a grassy field, her arms and legs tangled with her companions’. This is what I thought life should look like. It was, as Michael Minchak put it, how I got “Millayed.” Read More »

Scotty

March 13, 2014 | by

The fourth of five vignettes.

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Photo: M. O. Stevens, via Wikimedia Commons

M. F. K. Fisher had a magic gardener. This fellow, she wrote, understood the daily weather, the seasons and the various planting cycles, the necessity of encouraging or discouraging bird and insect life, landscape arrangement, grafting, and everything associated with the garden. He was an old Scotsman who, she discovered, in an earlier life, had written extensively on horticulture; and here he was, in his retirement, working for her, and quietly teaching her to tend her garden. He was the Platonic ideal of the gardener. And, of course, she wrote, he did not actually exist.

But I did not believe her.

I knew not only that he somewhere existed, but that I might be lucky enough to meet him face to face. Those besotted by an interest long for the perfect teacher. He who would be not only the complete master of his craft, but of himself: capable of leading the student, through a brilliant mixture of silence and misdirection, to reach his own, practicable conclusions. Read More »

Reading the Viaduct

December 4, 2012 | by

Starting out for the southern end of the Reading Viaduct means walking alongside a live railroad track, vigilant for the sound of a CSX freight train approaching from behind. Your destination is the mouth of an abandoned tunnel, which will pull you into stretches of almost total darkness thirty feet below ground. You aren’t headed for the tunnel because you love tunnels, but to glimpse the diversity of landscapes that makes up Philadelphia’s Reading Viaduct before it becomes the city’s answer to New York City’s Highline. You are there for the tunnel as much as for what’s on the other side: the promise of meadowland and prairie hiding in plain sight.

The Reading Viaduct may one day become a linear park transecting downtown Philadelphia. Should that happen, the Viaduct would be like no other park in the world. The three-mile stretch runs thirty feet underground at one end and emerges as an elevated line thirty feet above street level on the other. Since the 1980s, it has been abandoned. Sections of the Viaduct may undergo development as early as next year. Read More »

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What We’re Loving: Gardens, Riches, and Kidneys

June 15, 2012 | by

The classical novel exists, in large part, to teach us how to imagine money—the more than we’ll ever have, the more than we’ll ever lose. Nobody today writes more convincingly about lucre than Jonathan Dee. You glance up from The Privileges thinking, Sure, I can imagine how it would feel to be that level of mega-filthy, godalmighty rich—it’s like grasping some exotic theorem—then you dive back in to watch the Moreys make even more. (For a round-up of moneycentric novels, check out Christian Lorentzen in the new Bookforum.) —Lorin Stein

I’m not a gardener—I can hardly tell tulips from forget-me-nots—but I have many friends who are, and I’ve just come across the perfect book for them. James Fenton’s A Garden from a Hundred Packets of Seed is short, witty, and useful. If you were starting a flower garden from scratch, Fenton asks, what flowers would you choose to grow in it? The names themselves are a pleasure to read: the Shoo-Fly Plant (also known as the Apple of Peru), the Pheasant’s Eye, the Iceland Poppy, the Blue Pygmy. Fenton also gives sound advice: “When handling seedlings, always hold them by the leaves, not by the stem”; and, “Forcefully remind your cat about the difference between seed trays and litter boxes.” —Robyn Creswell

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