Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Lungworts and Hyacinths, or Breathing Happiness

 Post 28

Green stalks prod their way up through soil seeking... what? If plants could feel, what would it feel like, pushing your way through earth for reasons you do not know?  To break through and feel something unexpected, such as light, course into your pores as photosynthesis, energy, begins. 

It probably would feel like what we felt, when as infants we pushed our way out to take in that first gulp of air, a substance for which we had no anticipating concept. AIR!, Strange, improbable, undreamt of air. Surprise! Of course we cried out, then quieted, finding a rhythm in this new thing breath. And rhythm we knew from our mothers' bodies.

We can't remember..., but we can imagine. Nature, thriftily-extravagent, uses similar processes at different levels in different ways, allowing for some imaginative analogy, empathy in context.  And gardens,-- where skill, comensurate with sensitivity, developes, --are great places for imagining. Enhancing sensitivity and imagination is one way gardening can change the gardener.

To breathe the air, to feel light, to enter a different state of being, how did we ever survive the shock? Well, cause not everything changed, there remained the lilt of known voices, touch, being held, tenderness, states we came to know as love and trust. From these, with these, we could grow to find pleasure in strange new things such as light and air. 

Here is the beginning of the pink Lenten Rose at the crest of the old buried staircase. Only one stalk is blooming, facing down towards a Lungwort which is about to bloom.

Lungworts are usually grown in some shade and therefore aren't usually this early. But I grow grey-leaved ones in sun. Older strains have greener leaves and need more shade. 

The reason the plant is called Lungwort is because its spotted leaves were once thought to resembled lungs. The flowers are the breath, the leaves are the lungs.

It's right there, isn't it?  It's a world I hardly knew existed before gardening. As a gardener, I've learned so many things -- sensitivity and skill, patience, respect, cooperation, and something else.  Something very like an everyday ecstasy. 

“Flowers and sunlight, air and silence—‘luxe, calme et volopte.’”  Patricia Simon

It comes to different people in different ways. For me, it's after I've been working in the garden for awhile. I'm physically tired but alert. So I lean forward or back to preen this frond or that and there it is, a stillness, a lively, peaceable calm. It is like the smell of a hyacinth as you walk down a busy street when, for a moment, everything else disappears, or rather, becomes more real.

And you are a child again. A hyacinth has been placed on your windowsill for Easter. You watch it grow. At first it is a stalk of dark, deeply purple, secretive shells, like a long row of muscle shells fastened onto seaweed on the beach at tide-turn. Then the purple lightens, the shells slowly open  and they aren't shells at all, but tender, pliable flowers. And the smell, the smell is like nothing at all, or everything. It is everywhere, it is nowhere, it is Air. And as you  breathe it in, it is a delivery, an earnest, on the strange promise of that very first unremembered breath.


How to Lungwort (another great plant that easily grows around here): If you have shade or sun, like blue, purple, pink  or almost white flowers, this is a useful plant. Lungwort, or  Pulmonaria grows from rhizomes and needs moisture, especially if it gets a lot of light. Part of its appeal is that it blooms for almost two months, its escalating flowery bits growing ever longer. The best thing to do for it is to cut the flowers back hard before they are fully done blooming. So at about six weeks clip back as much of it as you can: flowers, stems and any tatty leaves.  If you do this new leaf growth with proceed nicely and you will end up with great foliage plants for the rest of the summer. If you do not cut it back when it needs it, I have found that it can  droop, get mildew or even die, especially in sun. It is as if making new leaves while keeping up the old stuff is almost too much for it  If you want more plants, and you have a variety that makes viable seed, just shake a handful of spent stems over a moist bit of shaded earth. Next spring you will have babies to transplant as you wish.

Most writers tell you not to grow Lungworts in clay, but I have found they do fine in my only slightly amended clay soil. So just make sure they are in somewhat well-drained soil, not pure clay where the rhizomes can rot. Many of mine are on the slope of a hill, which must help.

Hyacinth a few days later

How to Hyacinth: Hyacinthus Orientalis is a bulb that has been bred from the wild Hyacinth, a native of Turkey. As with most bulbs, plant it to a depth just a little deeper than its own size in the fall. It will bloom for a short time the next spring, and if you are lucky, again the year after.  For all that bother though, the powerful sweet scent is well worth the effort. The blue/purple flower, versus the other colors, is perhaps the most treasured of all; it stands for sincerity.

Full bloom

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