Monday, April 5, 2010

Messin' With my Mind

I can get very nostalgic about plants. A particular plant or flower can have the same effect on me as a smell does, whisking me back to a distant (or not so distant) place or time. When I was about 35 years old, I went to eastern Washington, and noticed that there was sagebrush growing there. I got out of the car, plucked off a sprig, and as soon as the smell hit my brain I was transported to the age of 9, on a dusty roadside in a somewhat bleak landscape in Montana.

In Greece and Turkey, blood red poppies are everywhere in the spring. And years after I'd returned from Greece and the first Greek poppy bloomed in my Seattle garden, it was almost as if the garden disappeared and I was alone on the flank of Mt. Lycabettus in Athens, marvelling that a plant could poduce something so purely red.

Some plants can really mess with your mind though.

On my trip back to the US last Oceober, I brought several Pacific Coast Iris varieties. It's an amazing group that doesn't thrive (or even survive) everywhere. But since Istanbul winters are almost indistinguishable from those of coastal N. California or Oregon, and the season was right, I thought I'd give it a go. Bare-rooting plants is always stressful, but if you're going to do it to a Pacific Coast Iris you better do it at theright time of the year.

So they seemed to settle in quite well, and several weeks ago were obviously sending up flower buds. Last week the first bud started to open, showing a tantalizing line of purple. ("But that's not purple on that bud in the photo, and it's not a line!" you must be thinking. True, on both counts. Don't be so literal-minded!)

Anyway, when you see that on a tall bearded iris, you know you'll have a flower very soon. It's as if the ecological knowledge born of their evolution in lands filled with hungry slugs and snails is telling them, "better get on with it!"

Now the Pacific Northwest is famous for slugs too, giant ones, and to read some garden writers from there you'd think that Seattle and its surroundings would be little more than a barren field of slimy green stubs. But our natives are actually pretty harmless. It's the imported varieties that cause all the damage. Emmet Watson would agree if he were among us today.

So every morning I would grab my camera and head down into the garden, brimming with the expectation of finding either the first bloom of a PCI in Istanbul, or a snail-eaten stub. And every day, I found neither: just a slight bit more purple edge had shown itself. It was only by the day before yesterday that the entire bud had emerged, ready to burst into bloom.

Yesterday morning, once again, I stumbled out of bed and down to the garden, camera in hand. And there it stood, tall, proud, stately... and still defiantly closed. And it sat that way all day. If it weren't for slug bait*, it would have suffered the same fate as the Siberian squills (or green and blue stumps thereof) that surrounded it. It was something like holding a lollipop in front of a sugar-starved 4-year-old and asking him to please not lick it. Who could blame a snail?

It's taxing on the psyche. I'm confident that if I were a Hosta grower here, by now I'd be full-on, certifiably, bat-shit crazy.

Well, this morning it finally did pop. And predictably, since I haven't had a Pacific Coast iris blooming in my garden for ten years now, it was one of those time-tunnel experiences. Against the very real sound of the chickadees and the familiar cool breeze on my face offset by warmth of the sun on my back, I could almost feel the gentle green embrace of my old garden, and the sweet resinous aroma of budding poplars that fills Seattle every spring.

Of course summer will be the real test of these beauties; Istanbul gets hot. I'm hoping the cooling effect of the nearby Bosphorus will help them pull through; back in Kocamustafapaşa with its more Mediterranean microclimate, they would almost surely be toast by July. Maybe mine will be. That's okay, I have other nostalgia plants on the way...Geranium x magnificum, night-scented stocks, Korean chysanthemums...

So I suppose I've almost come full circle. Iowa to Illinois, where I grew my mom's evening primroses as my tie to home, Illinois to Greece where I grew...well, almost nothing...Greece to Seattle and Greek poppies tied me back to the fleeting green of a Greek hillside; and now Seattle to Istanbul, with Pacific iris. Though with all due respect to the folks in Helena, I'm kind of hoping the next step will not be me, trying to garden on a dusty hot roadside in Montana!
* "Oh dear, slug bait?!" I can hear the more ecologically minded of my readers clucking. Tsk tsk! But I challenge any of you to resist after you've picked and smashed hundreds upon hundreds and still come out to find your newly-emerged beans and peas, your clematis, all your bulbs, your iris, your...just about everything, mowed to the ground. In fact I challeng you to try and raise anything here without it! I would smash them in the hundreds and more just materialize. We've got an acre or two here after all. "Get a goose!" they say. I can hear the neighbors now as the goose begins honking. And I can see me as it goes through the garden, eating a beakful of rarities for every snail it downs! "Get rid of their hiding places!" If that means pulling up all the wild flowers, all the borage, white comfrey, arum, smyrnium et al. that grow here, and tearing down all our rock walls, I suppose that would be an option.

Honestly I'd rather not use it. We don't have the harmless-to-wildlife brand here. Fortunately there is a tiny granular one of a bizarre color and not much smell; I've never seen any bird or animal (outside snails) show the least interest in it. But snails - five or six species, all of them voracious - are simply part of the landscape here. Between slug bait and a couple of gypsies from Adapazarı, they are kept moderately in check.


Sarah said...

what a lovely post, and beautiful flower. I get homesick for the
fields of dandylions.

Sazji said...

:) There are a couple more of them on the way too - a light one and a deep blue one. I do hope they'll survive our summers....

didem said...

Hello Garden Freak,
I was reading a blog and saw yours.Loved the name.Garden freak ha?Funny thing you are an American living in Istanbul and I am Turkish,living in Seattle.
So I had to write you.From now on I wanna read your blog.Unfortuanetly you need to deal with my terrible english.Very nice blog...Didem