One gardener's observations, discoveries and random thoughts whilst simultaneously worshipping and dallying in a Cape Cod garden. "A garden," said Ralph Waldo Emerson, "is like those pernicious machineries which catch a man's coatskirt or his hand, and draw in his arm, his leg and his whole body to irresistable destruction."


Butch mentioned my “wee lanterns” in a comment the other day–you may have noted an assortment of them in different backgrounds. There are five, hanging from cuphooks in the western end of each section of the fence. Each one takes a tea candle (one of those little tin cup candles, burning time about 3-5 hours each, depending on conditions. Don’t ask, I just know.) and cast a small amber glow.

After a few seasons out in the elements, these guys are deserving of a scraping and repainting, maybe this time in a uniform black…though I’ve always been fond of the random colors. We’ll see. They add a nice counterbalance in tone of light to the solar lights, which are great, but cast a very cold blue light. I need to find some solar lights with amber LEDs, instead of the so-called white.

As the solstice approaches and the evenings get longest, I love to have all kinds of candles nestled in the garden as lingering dusk starts to fade. Most nights I do it, it’s not simply a utilitarian function, but more a spiritual activity. Maybe I feel like I’m lighting the way to welcome the magical sprites and fairies of the midsummer garden, shining a beacon to call the attention of all the gods and goddesses who might ever have existed, to beg their blessing on my efforts here.

Perhaps it’s like lighting the theatre for some unadvertised presentation of A Midsummer Nights Dream, as performed by moths and butterflies and june bugs and snails and chipmunks.

At the very least, there’s nothing more magical than that deeply red-purple-orange sky above a garden lit with fireflies and candles. Or maybe it’s just an excuse to stretch the long days a little further and stay out there a little longer, admiring, examining, watching, listening.

Tonight…this morning, really, I lit the candles after midnight. It’s 60 degrees and the full moon’s sliding in and out of clouds which are creeping in from the west. Even with that, the clouds glow with the moon’s light.

There’s a fifty percent chance of showers before dawn. Although of course I am fifty percent closer to dawn than I was when I read that forecast, so I’m not sure what that means, exactly.

But anyway, the air is heavy with the scent of roses. Every now and then a long, slow easy gust moves the treetops behind the house. They hang for a minute in the gust, and then rebound back to their original positions, as lazily. A gentle rustling tickles the flowered air.

And here I am, earning the nickname, Midnight Gardener, as I shine my flashlight down into the garden bed, crouching at one place…and then another.

There’s so much to see. Something about focusing your attention with the small cone of light from the flashlight maybe. Perhaps its clearer thinking for the cooler night air; either way you notice more.

The difference in foliage that reveals a bit of bindweed is creeping inside another plant, or a bit of wide-bladed grass is masquerading as an iris leaf…that sort of thing. The real weeds are a bit more obvious.

But there’s also another side to the garden community. If you weren’t out with a flashlight after dark, you wouldn’t get to see the little moths flitting in the dark between blossoms. How would you know that it’s a fat-ass June Bug that’s been munching on the leaves of the morning glory?

A few dianthus clumps to the west, past the fourth white allyssum and back a little…alongside a nice big stand of rudbeckia, there’s an anthill. For them, the rudbeckia may as well be a sequoia forest.

They are the tiniest ones, brown. And there’s lots of them scurrying in and out of the anthole they’ve concealed under the curved awning of a broken clamshell fragment. There’s a sulphur cosmos seedling in their side yard which will quickly tower above them, and a low hedge of everlastings at the front of their property which will likely do the same, at least on their scale.

It’s good to know where they are, since it could be less than pleasant to accidentally disturb them some weeding afternoon in the future. I’ll try hard not to, though. I can easily see their place in the garden. As they dig out their tunnels, they bring soil from down below up to the surface.

As they live their lives, they’re bringing all sorts of organic material down into the ground. Actually, they’re working for me, if I can let them be…keeping everything fresh in their little micro-world. Plus these are the little guys who are the ones who stroke open the peony blossoms, when blossom they do.

The ants climb the massive peony flower stalks, the garden world equivalent of the steelworker, braving gale force winds way up the sky, gathering the nectar that oozes from the flowers. As they do and the petals dry, they unfurl. It’s really quite cool…but I’m not obsessing about the peonies not blooming or anything. Just because the guys down the street have a whole fenceful of them. I’m just saying, that’s all.

I slide the flashlight beam along each stalk of lily in the different parts of the garden, looking closely for flashes of red. It really feels quite remarkable and exciting that I’ve not seen (knocking on wood, or something similar, like my head for being up so late, eh?)any of those rotten red lily leaf beetles. Perhaps they are not a problem here in Harwich, or maybe it’s just that lilies haven’t been grown right here before. I’ll remain vigilant just the same.

I give a daisy stem a tap, watching the tremor dislodge and fling an earwig into the darkness. I think those guys are pretty gross, but I guess they have their place in the scheme of things. I’ll have to research this and see just what job they’re meant to be doing out there.

I find another fat-ass June bug climbing the side of one of the asiatic lilies and I flick him away. I know he’ll probably find his way back, but he might be easily distracted by some lesser flower. They don’t strike me as the sort who have exceptionally long memories, though I could easily be wrong. Who’d have guessed about the elephant at first glance?

Okay, there’s some serious bird song firing up out there on Not Wisteria Lane. The house sparrows started the quiet twittering. But now the cardinal’s joined in and I can see the palest gray cast to the sky that’s not from the full moon, the sun’s on the move…and off to bed I go!

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