Saturday, June 23, 2012

City Sanctuary

“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.”   
-Marcus Tullius Cicero


Mysterious happenings quietly unfold beneath the old plum tree
      Yesterday started out as a typical foggy summer day in San Francisco. Then, unexpectedly, the sun broke through the thick marine layer. So, I decided to venture out to the backyard garden to see what mysterious happenings had occurred since my last visit.
       In the almost three decades I've lived here the events that have unfolded in the backyard have been miraculous, mysterious and, at times, heartbreaking. Edna, the long, floppy-eared rabbit, who belonged to a housemate, being ever curious wandered out into traffic. Her offspring, Mocha, gave us all many happy moments and was lovingly buried in the nasturtium patch a few years ago.
      There have been violets springing up in the dead of winter, raucous croquet parties in which the fuschia barely survived, birthday celebrations, an exquisite, ancient tree destroyed  because of a neighbor's complaints, a dead bird, a small, porcelain doll's leg, rubber chickens, a visitor practicing Tai Chi with a sword, overzealous gardeners, pigeon enthusiasts, and tree trimmers.
      My favorite times are the intimate, late afternoons spent with friends in dappled sunlight under the resilient old plum tree indulging in fine wine, cheese, olives, and a few loaves of crusty bread from the Boulangerie. There's nothing like the joyful simplicity of good food, stimulating conversation, and laughter shared with friends around a table in the garden!
     Years ago, I carved out this sanctuary at the very end of our large backyard that abounds with fruit trees, rose bushes, irises, naked ladies, ferns, rosemary and other fresh herbs for cooking, succulents, flowering plants, and vegetation that is still an enigma to me. Inspired by time spent in France enjoying meals outdoors, I chose the very back of the yard beneath the towering plum tucked behind a massive pampas grass bush for a sanctuary. It was perfect because there was a sense of privacy next to the vibrant nasturtiums.
    And still, after all this time, I see it as the beginning of a wild English garden, untamed and unruly, filled with never-ending magic and surprises. I hung a few wind chimes in the branches of the plum tree. After years without une petite tableau pour l'alimentation, and with much gratitude to Pacific Northwest friends, I added a small redwood table with benches that was previously on my mother's deck overlooking the Columbia River. Soon, I'll install my hammock, as I have in past summers, by connecting one end on a lower branch of the plum tree and sliding the other into a slit in the fence.
     What's amazing this year is how much more prolific the nasturtiums are than ever before as they twist and curl around clay pots, wicker chairs, and birdhouses. Then, they continue on getting tangled up with cala lillys, rocks of various shapes and sizes as well as whatever else gets in their path. Happily, I know I'm partially to blame for this lovely chaos. After all, I'm the one that trained them to wander outside their borders!
    While gathering petals and spicy seeds off a few nasturtiums for a salad I noticed a chill in the air and realized that I'd wiled away two hours musing in my city sanctuary.  I watched as a hummingbird enthusiastically dipped its beak into one of the bright orange blossoms. Birds sang sweetly up in the tree while I gathered up clumps of rooted dirt I'd extracted from several clay pots that had tumbled over in bay winds. A white butterfly darted through the nasturtiums doing an ethereal ballet as I considered what to plant next. White butterflies bring good luck, I remembered as I strolled through the backyard taking in all the  new growth that has now upstaged the faded wild flowers of spring - then began ascending the very, narrow stairway up to our little urban chateau de la valeureux, my spirit renewed and ready for summer which will arrive in the fall.

Celebrating arrival of redwood picnic table under the old plum tree with Doug.

He and his wife, Steph, hauled it all the way from Cathlamet, Washington. Doug masterminded a way to get it through a very narrow door frame leading to a tight passageway. He ended up taking it apart and putting it back together again. Nothing like having a handy man around! (November 2003)


Relaxing with Mocha in the garden, 2007

Just me and a couple monkeys swinging from the trees, 2009