Since our insufficiently symbolicmourning dove experience, I've been living vicariously through my friend Deb, whose new friends Habigail and Nanook took up residence on her amazing Long Island City fire escape garden. Habby and Nanook produced two eggs, hatched them, and now spend their days nuzzling their clutch in an excruciatingly cute manner and taunting Deb's cat, Icky. I am so jealous.
The Medinilla magnifica started blooming last week, and every day it grows more magnifica and otherworldly. Sometimes I fear it might eat the rose geranium, which taunts it - fragrantly - from the windowsill, and which has also grown exponentially since Bonbon gave me a cutting to plant.
I haven't been around much, and my container garden has suffered. I've more of less kept up with the houseplants - the wild, ecstatic geranium, the Tiny Tim tomato plant that seeded itself in February from last year's crop (also from Bonbon), the Jasmine I bought from Trader Joe's. They sit on the sill and stare longingly at their breathern on the balcony.
But everything that lives outside is marked with neglect. This winter caused a bloodbath – several roses gave up the ghost, the Japanese maple went south, half the terracotta pots split open, and several of the IKEA wood deck tiles we put in rotted out. Considering that I've done the bare minimum of pruning, feeding, watering, planting, and tidying, the balcony looks a lot better than it should. Soon we'll have strawberries and clematis and whatever's left of the roses, with a tiny plot of arugula and lettuces (even a truant can open a seed pack, scatter, and hope for the best). I feel as though I'm being unfairly rewarded for horticultural neglect.
If I am home before dark, I climb out onto the balcony with a gin and tonic, survey what needs to be done (underplanting, staking, pinching), stare at all the bare patches of soil and the first signs of blackspot and...do absolutely nothing. Something in me just wants to sit for a while and appreciate that the sweet spontaneous earth has carried on very nicely without my poking and prodding.
Now that it's officially spring, I'm a girl with a one-track mind.
All I want to do is poke around in my container garden, buy seeds, research plants, investigate balcony-friendly vermiculture, bury the bodies of plants I've killed, and admire my new beauties:
Well hellllllo, Medinilla Magnifica (second picture). If I told you how much time I spent Googling "sexy pink orchidy-looking plant with ginormous leaves" after I first saw you in Positano, you would issue a restraining order. And I would deserve it: two years of Googling is a lot of crazy. Now I leap out of bed in the morning just to stare at you when you're sleeping. Maybe I'll mist you a bit while I'm drinking my coffee, maybe I'll coo a little over your cascading pink blossoms. We're in the honeymoon stage and I'm enjoying this brief window of time before you start bitching about humidity levels and the indignity of having to live on top of one of Fauxhawk's ugly black speakers. At some point I'll stop trying to impress you, but for now, I'm your slave.
Wazzup, Princess Alexandra of Kent? We haven't actually met yet, but you're on your way to me now, you leggy little minx. And when you arrive, my little mail order bride, I'm going to grab you by your bare roots and...plant you. Say goodbye to your sheltered, rarified existence - the balcony awaits.
With 52 square feet of balcony to play with, I have to be selective about the company I keep. I can't just plant any Tom, Dick or Harry. This year, I ruthlessly dumped a Japanese maple - it was a weakling that couldn't hold up to the appalling neglect I'd subjected it to, and its demands were greater than its rewards. But because I am a woman of excess, I'm thinking about growing up and down to save space: a new clematis winding its way up a climbing rose, a hanging pot of mara des bois strawberries. I have a whole Pinterest page devoted to my garden wishlist. It's a sickness.
The garden has been a nice distraction. It's greening nicely, and my clematis has unexpected risen from the dead in a Christ-like fashion, just in time for Easter. The last eight weeks or so have been hard. I'm really struggling - pushed to my limits, doubting my capabilities, confronting my short-comings. As an overly accommodating shape-shifter, I've never been good at standing up to people with difficult personalities, and this has been my biggest challenge lately. Sometimes I'm more pissed at my own spinelessness than at the dickhead who's being a jerk for absolutely no reason.
Anyway, my coping mechanism has been to buy myself flowers. Nothing expensive or extravagant - a bunch of candy-striped tulips here, a posy of hyacinths there. They bring me great pleasure and remind me that beauty has enormous healing properties.
P.S. That's a Michelle Armas painting in that first pic - something else that has lifted my spirits lately.