Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added) is the best-kept secret among contemporary American writers. --John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture

Friday, June 30, 2006

A tiny hedge maze

It is raining, raining, raining. Our mud room has flooded. All sills are wet. The foxgloves and roses are leaning over to examine the streaming earth. My husband’s tin can of a boat almost came a cropper but was raised just as it was sinking. I have not a penny, because the bank is closed due to flooding. The house smells of all the years between now and 1808, when it was plumb and had the fragrance of new-cut wood.

And I am thinking about the hedge maze in the back yard. There is no hedge maze in the back yard, but my children desire one, particularly the youngest, who likes to dash about the little one at the Farmer’s Museum.

This morning I sent my friend Phil an ecard from Peter Randall-Page’s web site: a picture of a curvilinear labyrinth tucked among the ecards of Peter Randall-Page’s sculptures. I suppose it is his own. The card didn’t go, which seemed about right. If life is a labyrinth with a hidden center, it’s meant to embrace confusion. Then I read an essay by Jo Edkins called Making Your Own Maze, and after that I looked at Tom Baxter’s brick maze, a front-yard extravaganza that a-mazes passers-by and brings a note of the eternally wacky and wacky eternal to the neighborhood. It looks quite wonderful in winter, when the bricks melt the snow. I cannot make one like that, because I refuse to do trigonometry, and I can’t see myself wielding a diamond-bladed saw to turn severe bricks into obliging curvilinear segments.

Privet. That is what I see in my future. It is suitable to the period, flourishes in dratted Yankee zone 3 (the front yard is 4, the back yard closer to the lake is 3), and settles down to be a hedge with relative ease. We have an ancient privet hedge along the driveway in front, and it’s quite healthy. I will plant more privet in the back, and I’ll find all sorts of interesting things—like the doll’s plate, clay marble, clay pipe, and shards that I have already found, digging holes with my favorite spade.

Most of my plans for the back yard have been cramped by The Dog, Susquehanna. My ideal is to have a place where children want to play. I already have two sun gardens and a shade garden out front, so I don’t try to make Hanna behave in a flower border—as she gets older, I might. Despite her, I do have a square garden room enclosed by wooden fence and lilac, rose wall with arch, and stone wall. Inside is a dining table and chairs and bench and assorted jungly plants. And I have a tiny gazebo covered with Dutchman’s pipe, assorted lilacs and rugosas, a lovely Bali cherry (there were more before my husband ran wild with the lawn mower), a wild plum, a Maiden Blush apple tree, a stone fairy table by a birch tree that is growing out of an apple-tree stump, and several raised beds for vegetables. There was also a splendid hydrangea standard before the Amish roofers dropped their dumpster right on top of it. A yew hedge loops around a greenhouse connected to the garage, but it looks fairly awful, because the dog uses it as a giant body-scratcher. That’s why yew is out of contention for the hedge maze. I don’t think privet will be as satisfying, but I might be wrong.

Nothing can happen until thousands of dollars tumble down the drain; the skyscraping killer ash that throws limbs about the yard must be dragged from the clouds. I hate to see her go, but since she is under stress and has already impaled the van and filled the yard with branches on three occasions, I think she is doomed, despite the best that cabling can do. As a mother on three on days that can be wild and windy, I have a fellow-feeling for her…

What, I wonder, should the maze paths be? Grass? Isn’t that a pain to mow between hedges? Pebbles? And how small can a hedge maze be and still be satisfying?

It’s raining. The ground is nice and soft and easy to dig. I suppose when the ash comes down, the soil will be hard and tough and resistant. As it should be, I suppose, since a labyrinth is not meant to be too easy.

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A site for turf labyrinths, by Jeff Saward.
Online copy of W. H. Matthews’ Mazes and Labyrinths (1922).

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The lake has entered the town, going far past the STOP signs and far past the No Parking Past This Point signs. The number of tourists is delightfully down, and most shops are closed. Lake Street will soon be Lake Street. Daring people sit on benches, neck deep, and six hapless teens try to raise a sunken boat and motor. Susquehanna-the-dog stinks. Susquehanna-the-river is green milk. The overflow drain in the lakefront park is a pretty little fountain. The garden of boulders and flowers and informational sign is giving pleasure and knowledge to the freshwater mermaids.

28 June

Oh, and the book promotion page will float back up, now and then, during the summer, like something tossed up on the Susquehanna, now a green muscular carrier of death and fertility. I hear that, down by Binghamton, at least one house slipped from its foundations and sailed down the river... And 25 miles of I-88 have vanished, so they say, along with some tractor-trailers. I hope the ferrying-to-camps goes well, or well enough.

Hmm. Can't take the van in for repairs, because "Portlandville is underwater." The dam is just a wee bit out of control. That sounds ominous. Maybe I'll try to check out the back roads this afternoon. Early tomorrow part of my crew is heading to faraway Turkey, but it's funny--so far we can't manage getting to the car rental! Dry us out, sun!

29 June

Blogger is being very, very whimsical. If I vanish, you know why.

10 comments:

  1. As the sun is blazing here, I wish I could send you some. Your gardens (present and future) sound lovely. Under times of stress I often lure my insomniac mind into sleep by planning gardens.
    Privet grows as easily from cuttings as geraniums do--at least out here, where I made edgings and out of place topiary in my wild cabin garden over a period of years when my children were very young.
    Dogs, in my experience, love to fall down in ecstasy on one's favorite, tenderest plants.
    (Deer like to eat anything the dogs don't fall down upon).

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  2. Hurrah, we have a bit of sun ourselves. So far. Blue sky, white clouds. But the roads are still closed. I'm crossing my fingers for tomorrow.

    Yes, I like to plan gardens, too. But I can't carry out my dreams, because I am way too fanciful and extravagant.

    Should've grabbed the privet clippings from next door--they just pruned.

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  3. This is scary. Yikes. We had lots of rain and overswelling creeks and things, but nothing like what you all have had. I thought I'd dropped into Macondo on reading this post.
    The maze sounds intriguing. Privet would certainly grow easily. Can't wait to see what you'll do.

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  4. It is hot and dry as blazes here, my bleeding hearts dried up and fell off.

    A friend of mine posted this and I thoout you might enjoy it. I like the part that talks about her hair being messed, breathed in heavy fog, and believing in the rain.

    So I was reading about Anna Akhmatova, a Russian poetess. Gumiyov, who eventually became her husband, wrote this for her:

    Today, I can see that your glance is especially sad,
    And your hands are especially frail and your hair especially a mess.
    There, there now… Just listen… far, far away, on Lake Chad
    Roams a proud and graceful giraffe…

    An exquisite figure and a leisurely life are his boon
    An intricate pattern adorns his hide,
    A beauty that can only be rivaled by the brilliant moon
    Whose light breaks on the surface of trembling waters.

    He looks like a colorful sail if you look from afar,
    His running— He glides like a seagull through the salty air.
    Oh, I know about wonders… Before the first evening star,
    His silhouette sails through the sunset to land at the top of the great rock.

    Please listen, I'll take you to hundreds of mysterious lands,
    I'll tell you about the dark maids and their darker swain
    You don’t see it? You’ve breathed in the heavy fog for far too long,
    You don't want to believe in anything but the rain.

    Then what kind of words should I use to describe to you, child,
    Distant lands, straight-standing palms, the fragrant grasses…
    Are you crying? There, there now… Just listen… down at Lake Chad,
    Roams a proud and graceful giraffe...

    Nikolay Gumilyov, 1907

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  5. I made it to Hertz, via back roads. Now they have to make it to NYC. Luckily it's better to the east... We appear to be the land of front- and backyard lakes, as well as the land of gutter streams and cracked dams and flooded or disappearing roads. I saw a big homemade sign propped up on a sawhorse: BRIDGE GONE. And stopped coming home and bought some foxgloves for next year, plus some perennial forget-me-nots and strawflowers. A pot of baby's tears and some tiny pink-flowering thing to go with it--nobody knew what.

    Laura, you are tuned to my wave length. I, too, thought of Macondo--rain and blossoming mold.

    Susanna, that was lovely. I'll have to try some more of Gumilyov. Akhmatova was one of many Russian poets I loved in my 20's. I even translated some Russian poetry with my tiny scrap of Russian knowledge. I ought to go back and read some of her circle again.

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  6. You should write a poem called blossoming mold. That sounds cool

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  7. I am still computerless, but at the library.

    I love your descriptions.

    I too have gandiose dreams of gardens. When I bought the palace in the grove, it was with the intent of making the back yard an "English Cottage" garden, complete with a studio. That was until I discoverd that one needs a lot and I do mean a lot of money to do that sort of thing.

    Another thing I discovered is that tree roots grow deep and all around the house. Despite this I have managed to plant 5 rose bushes, four of which have survived, a smattering of purple iris, a couple of lovely orange asiatic lillies and a bunch of hosta. Hosta grow well in shade, thus they can be planted under the trees in the front yard.

    I hope the rains have abated for you all. I saw the paper and it seems bad. I am thinking of you and praying for the best.

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  8. Blossoming mold! I'm afraid it's in our future here... My shade garden has black spot or rust (or something else nasty.) I just spent the afternoon gardening, with N. to help me. Next cooking, playing with my children, and writing after they toddle to bed.

    Susanna, I shall put those words on a green sticky note on my computer, and perhaps it will bloom, sooner or later.

    b. q., I have cottage garden beds in front of my house, and a lot of what is in them I've gotten from my mother's Carolina garden or from friends. I never, never refuse a passalong plant. My neighbors have splendid beds in their back yard, and they give me quite a bit--autumn saffron, Siberian and Japanese iris, daylilies in lemon and apricot and apricot with dark red. Also, I grow perennials from seeds some years.

    I sympathize with the studio fantasy. I'd like that as well, but since I'd have to wade through the snow and abandon my children to boot, I guess it won't work for me. But I do desire the picturesque little house that was once there, long before my time.

    Yes, it is very bad for people who live very near the lakes or streams. I didn't have anything but a flooded mudroom and wet basement and inconvenience, so I really have nothing to complain about.

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  9. Indulging in the self-indulgent activity of entering my name "Jo Edkins" into Google, I came across your blog about mazes. A couple of comments. I doubt that Tom Baxter shaped his bricks. The circles are large enough to use straight-forward rectangular bricks. The only geometry consists of pushing a stick into the ground, tying a piece of string on it (with a loose knot, so it slips round the stick) and walking round the stick holding onto the other end of the string. It creates a circle. The rest you draw by eye.
    English turf mazes are made on grass and some sort of paving material. Bricks are used, but so is tarmac or gravel or anything else. You sink the paths below the surface of the grass, and mowing consists of mowing right across the maze - paths and all. As simple as mowing a lawn!
    Hedge mazes are a brute as you need a fantastic lot of plants, and you need to wait for them to grow, and what do you do if one or more die? Also, hedges need maintenance. They will get out-of-hand if not trimmed - quite a job! The serious hedge mazes exist in houses with a lot of gardeners!
    You could make the 'walls' of the maze with flower-beds, and plant anything you like in the flowerbeds. You might have a mowing problem then, if you have grass paths of course.
    You can make a maze in a completely paved area by marking the walls and paths with different sorts or colours of paving.
    Anyway, best of luck. My email is on my webpage if you want to contact me.

    Jo Edkins ("How to make a maze")

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  10. Hi Jo--

    What fun: I shall visit your page when I get home again. I haven't done a maze, though I do now have a gazebo completely covered with Dutchman's pipe and hops, plus an enclosed green room with dining table, with a winding path through deciduous bamboo. I do want to work more on the back yard, though I doubt that I'll end up with a real hedge maze. My neighbor just gave me a fairly large Japanese maple, and I put it where the hedge maze was to be! Still, I suppose it could be inside... I do love mazes and green nooks and crannies of all sorts.

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Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.