Essence de Mai

Doesn’t that sound like a good name for a perfume?  Too bad God doesn’t put the ones he designs into bottles.  This one is available only in May, usually in the early morning or late evening hours.  The air is cool and the smell outdoors is like nothing else.  I just can’t get enough of it.

The abundance of flowers makes this month perfect for the many May processions honoring Our Blessed Mother that take place.  The irises and some of the peonies in the photos above come from my grandmother’s garden, which we used to raid each year for our May Crowning flowers.

Song of Spring

Despite the warm weather, it’s gloomy and un-Springlike out my window this morning.  Rain is forecast for later and I just hope it holds off until after my kindergartner’s much-anticipated field trip to Ijams Nature Center is complete.
I’m a big fan of four definite seasons, and I love something about all of them, but Spring is my favorite.  I was born in April so maybe that’s why.  Or maybe it’s because as a child studying intensely for spelling bees I missed most of five Springs.  I don’t know.  But my heart lifts at the first sight of the crocuses.
I don’t own a digital camera except for the one in my phone.  And I could write a post about why I think digital cameras are bad.  But this won’t be that post.  Because the one thing I love about having a camera phone is that I can take a picture whenever I want or whatever I want without having to worry about wasting film.  I can be completely self-indulgent about taking pictures of things like dandelions.  I have been, and I am going to share the results below to brighten up this gloomy day.
The daffodils have to come first because they are my favorite flower.  I love the color (yellow has always been my favorite!), I love the smell, I love the fact that they herald Spring (they even have trumpets!).  These pictures were taken in my front yard.  There are a few smaller patches scattered about the woods as well.  One of my ambitions in life is to have a whole field of daffodils, which I did start at our first home many years ago, but I am going to wait on any ambitious gardening projects until 1) I have time to have an actual life and 2) Until I am sure I won’t be moving ever again.
These are wild violets (I bet you knew that already.).  Why do people call these weeds?  I always wait to mow the grass until after the violets because I can’t bear to kill them.  I even tried to transplant some into my flowerbed once.  They sure are prettier than the African violets that my grandmother was so good at raising.  At least I think so.

Here are some more pretty flowers that other people call weeds.  I don’t know what you call the first one, but everyone knows dandelions!  Besides looking like little spots of sunshine in the grass, their greens can be eaten and their roots made into a medicinal tea.  Lorelei brought me a whole vaseful for my desk the other day.  It’s funny how what is considered a flower as opposed to a weed is simply subjective.  Why do we make it so hard on ourselves trying to plant flowers that are difficult to cultivate while attempting to eradicate the beautiful dandelions (from dent de lion, lion’s tooth), violets, and buttercups that grow effortlessly where God sowed them?

This isn’t a very good picture because the color is washed out but if you remember your Crayola box you’ll know by its name (Periwinkle) what color you should be seeing.  The scientific name is Vinca, and it’s a great ground cover for shady spots.  I think it also grows wild around here because I see it everywhere.
Here are some from last weekend’s walk on the Sequoyah Hills Greenway.  Virginia bluebells (I believe) on the bottom and tulips (of course) on the top.  I think tulips are beautiful but I did not plant many when I was actively gardening.  Despite the promises in the Breck’s catalogue, they never seem to come back around here, and I’m a lazy gardener who relies on bulbs and perennials with only the occasional pansy or marigold.
Back when I was gardening (when I had three preschoolers and yet was somehow not as busy as I am today) these grape hyacinths (which are naturalized throughout our front yard) were some of my favorites.  They are foolproof, they are pretty, they complement the daffodils, and they are inexpensive.  We lived on the South Knoxville dogwood trail then, and our driveway was bordered with a low rock wall.  I planted bulbs between the rocks and behind them, adding more every year, and it was so pretty.  You feel a certain responsibility when you are on a dogwood trail!  I had about six or seven different areas in my yard that I cultivated.  I planted 27 azalea bushes and about that many rose bushes.  Every spring I make it a point to drive by and see how my flowers are doing.
Isn’t that beautiful?  It doesn’t exactly fit the theme because those aren’t flowers on the tree, they are seeds–helicopters, to be precise.  This tree is in my sister’s front yard.  She and I weren’t sure what kind it was but Jake (who is the only one of my kids with any horticultural interest) said it must be a maple because of the seeds.
You can buy redbud trees but you don’t really need to.  They grow wild all over in East Tennessee.  I don’t know why these harbingers of Spring are called redbuds when the flowers are pinkish-purple, but I’m sure there is a reason.  I love these even when they are not blooming because of their distinctive heart-shaped leaves.
Finally, a crabapple, my favorite flowering tree.  We had a wonderful one in the front yard of my childhood home on Maywood Road.  Not only did it bloom spectacularly, but it was perfect for climbing, it had nice branches that were comfortable for sitting, and there was a hollow in it where you could leave messages.  I have an especially clear memory of it being in full beautiful bloom as we came outside one Sunday morning, all dressed up, on our way to church to have my baby sister baptized (which would have been just about exactly this time of year, 34 years ago).
Even though it’s not so pretty outside today, I feel extremely lucky to be an East Tennessean in the Springtime.


The yellow house had to go.  It really did.  It was dangerous.  But the wisteria draping it was so beautiful and I was afraid that it would all be gone this year.  I started seeing it bloom in other places but not in my yard.  And I wondered if I would enjoy that wonderful aroma that absolutely permeated our property last Spring.
But it DID come back!  There’s not nearly as much, and the smell is not as strong, but it’s here.  And I know that in a few years it will grow back the way it was before.  that makes me happy. 🙂

Thoughts of Spring

Back in the dreadful heat of summer I promised that I would never complain about cold this winter.  And mostly I haven’t.  I have enjoyed being cold!  I love the snow and I hope we get some more.  I am in no way ready for winter to end.
However, I do hate grey, depressing days like this one.  It’s hard for me to concentrate or really to get anything accomplished at all when the view from my office window is so bleak.  So I felt like indulging in a little springtime fantasy and sharing my very favorite poem with you:

“The Daffodils”

by William Wordsworth

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

I have so many pleasurable associations with this particular poem, which I am sure is very familiar to my readers.  In my freshman year at Georgetown University, I participated in a class called the Liberal Arts Seminar, a team-taught, multi-disciplinary, life-absorbing experience that met for nine hours a week for both semesters.  Our English professor was Dr. Paul F. Betz, a pre-eminent Wordsworth scholar.  His enthusiasm for Wordsworth and William Blake was contagious.  Daffodils have always been my favorite flower and I quickly memorized this poem.  One day I called home and started quoting the poem to my eight-year-old sister–only to have her join in, as she had just memorized it too!
As part of her Beautification Campaign, Lady Bird Johnson caused thousands of daffodils to be planted in our nation’s capital.  These delighted me on the long walks to the monuments that my roommate and I used to take every springtime.  Today, a framed photograph of the Lincoln Memorial with daffodils in the foreground hangs on my dining room wall next to a picture of Georgetown. [edit: not anymore. sigh.]
When I had my first house I determined to make my own daffodil field.  I planted more and more each year with the plan of eventually covering the whole hillside.  We moved, but the daffodils are still there.  Oftentimes, in the Smokies, patches of daffodils are the only remaining indications of homesites.  The cabins are long gone, but the bulbs continue to thrive, mute reminders of the women who once tended house and garden there.

Through my window

I wrote a couple of days ago about how much I enjoy the ability to easily open the windows in our new house.  I also love what I see when I look out.  This is what I see when I am working at my desk:

The windows in my office provide a feast for almost all the senses.  Besides the beautiful green view:

  • I smell honeysuckle and other growing things;
  • I feel the cool breezes we’ve enjoyed the last few days;
  • I hear birds singing and the sounds of Lorelei and William laughing just below (they spend most of their time outside).

I feel really, really lucky to be working at home.


The view through my kitchen window

My beautiful old Victorian house had the original double-hung windows.  But most of them were stuck, painted, or even epoxied shut!   Even when we managed to pry one open, most of the ropes that held the counter weights had broken long ago.  So we had to prop them up with whatever was handy and hope they stayed that way.
Our new house originally had crank out windows but only one of those remains.  They were recently replaced with sliding windows that can also swing out to be cleaned.  I don’t like curtains and we don’t need them for privacy, so the house is always flooded with light and views of green and growing things.  Best of all, they are easy to open and close.
We have some portable air conditioning units but so far the weather has been so pleasant that we’ve only had to use one occasionally.  Instead I get to enjoy cool breezes, the sound of rainfall, and the wonderful aroma of honeysuckle.

Nature red in tooth and claw

The poison ivy saga continues.  Lorelei and William are covered in it.  I now have patches all over my body, doubtless from clingy Lorelei’s little hands since there is no way the actual ivy touched me in most of these spots! 
To add to the fun, I also have enormous itchy welts–probable twenty or more–on both legs.  For years now I have smugly watched little mosquitoes eat other family members alive while they mostly ignored me.  Even when they did bite me, the little welts were gone by the next day.  “Whatever happened to those big mosquitoes from when I was a little girl?” I used to say.  “You know, the ones that left huge bites that lasted for days?”  Well, now I know where they went.  They came here. 
Last night, I was actually waked up by a bug of some kind buzzing in my hair.  God only knows what that was.
Nature is waging a war against us this Spring.  And Nature is winning.

I'm gonna need an ocean of calamine lotion

I HATE POISON IVY.  I cannot seem to escape the stuff.  It encircled the backyard of our first house, right where I wanted to plant a border of daylilies.  I wore gloves and long sleeves when I tried to pull it up, and still ended up with welts all over my arms.  My nursing toddlers rolled around in it one day; they did not get it, but they carried the urushiol on their fat little hands and got it all over and under my breasts.  That required a steroid shot.
Knowing I am extremely allergic to the stuff, I try to stay clear of it.  I allowed it to take over my rose garden at the next house.  I lay newspaper and mulch over it, being careful not to touch it; I even had professionals try to eradicate it; but in the end I just gave up.  But knowing what it looks like and avoiding it were not enough.  My dog ran away and I had to carry him home because I ran after him without the leash in hand–bad move (I was eight months’ pregnant and he weighs 50 lbs.; it was quite a sight to behold, I’m sure!).  Apparently, he’d had a nice roll in the poison ivy before he took off, because I ended up with an arm so covered with the stuff that it drew stares.  Seriously, it looked like I’d been burned, or had acid thrown on me, or something equally horrific.  Even the steroids didn’t touch that episode.
So I was disappointed and dismayed to discover that it’s here too.  The center of the front yard is nothing but poison ivy.  It’s climbing up the trees.  Some of the leaves are bigger than my hand–I swear, it’s like Godzilla posion ivy.  My house is the one with grass over a foot high–I’m scared to mow.  Yesterday I caught my little kids climbing on a fallen down tree covered with the stuff.  I hustled them into the house for a thorough bath–you can stop the rash if you wash off all the urushiol in 15 minutes; after that it’s too late–but I made them wash themselves.  I wouldn’t touch them.
Still, despite all precautions, in spring and summer I nearly always have at least some welts.  It has to be pretty bad at this point for me to even notice it.  At the moment, it is all over my toes.