D.H. Lawrence and a San Francisco Garden

Image2010 was a year of near year-round rainfall and heavy drippy fogs for us. It was really discouraging gardening weather. I am just not a fan of getting drenched, covered in mud head to toe and buffeted by gale force winds hurling themselves against our mountainside after passing over thousands of miles of open ocean every time I want to pull a weed. So that year I tended to stay inside. And there was another reason: our elderly little dog Bika began losing mobility in her back legs that year and was spending much more of her time in the warmth of the house. I wanted to be with her every moment I could, and the garden just had to take second place. That state of affairs continued into the first half of 2011, at which point  faithful little Bika died, and I neglected the plants for another year. Then today I realized: it’s time for the garden to wake up. 

Above is a picture of our brugmansia or datura tree. It started out in a pot, in which it didn’t do well, then was put into the ground, where it fared miserably for a couple of years in wind and fog. Brugmansias love sun and protection, so it was eventually moved to a spot just beside a fence, where it has done pretty well. Some years it hasn’t bloomed at all, but this summer it has had at least a dozen impressive flowers. I’m always amazed whenever I look at it. All in all, it’s been fine weather this year for the garden. For weeds too, so I’ve got plenty of work ahead of me.

I’ve been thinking a lot about our gardening climate as I make my way through my current reading project: D.H. Lawrence’s 1926 novel, ‘Quetzalcoatl’, which takes place in Mexico, mostly along the shores of Lake Chapala, where Lawrence was in residence while writing it. Mango and banana trees; afternoon rain showers so warm you can bathe and wash your hair in them; a thin cotton shirt and open sandals sufficient protection from the benign elements in most of the seasons of the year: what could be more different from our wind-thrashed, fog-enshrouded Nordic Mountain? Still, even the somewhat frustrated gardener in me has never dreamed of living in such a climate. All that steaming moisture seems as unhealthy to me as it apparently seemed to Lawrence, who could hardly wait to finish his novel so he could go back to Europe. I wonder if anyone has done a study comparing the attitudes of D.H. Lawrence and Robert Louis Stevenson toward topical weather. Both had weak lungs, both had a horror of Celtic mists and factory smoke, and both wrote some rather fantastic fiction. But Stevenson apparently adored a steaming jungle, while Lawrence ran just as quickly as he could in the opposite direction. For my part, I’m no lover of precipitation. I think water should come exclusively from wells.

Next up on the reading list: ‘Journey with Genius’, a memoir of Lawrence by the poet Witter Bynner who travelled with D.H. and his wife Frieda in Mexico and who was the basis of one of the characters in the novel I’m reading. Witter Bynner was a poet and translator and had a house in Santa Fé (currently a bed and breakfast called ‘Inn of the Turquoise Bear’ and for sale, if you’re in the market), where Lawrence and Frieda stayed on their first night in New Mexico. It was because the Lawrences got on so well with Bynner and his partner Willard Johnson (founder of the literary journal ‘Laughing Horse’) that the four travelled south of the border in the first place. Meanwhile, I don’t know what I’m going to enjoy more, Bynner’s memoir or making a start at bringing our poor little garden back to life. The garden, most probably, but I’m really looking forward to both. 



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