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November Blooms November 21, 2010

Posted by The Typist in 504, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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It’s Odd that as our few deciduous trees shed their leaves, the cypress blazing in the only show of color, that the neighborhood is full of blooms. Mostly I don’t know their names. I took up gardening when I lived in North Dakota to fill the emptiness of that expansive yard of lawn with something more thatn lawn, to tear down the ubiquitous evergreen shrubs that surrounded the street-side of the house, to fill the empty time. I never made close friends in Fargo, lacking some grace peculiar to the Lutheran soul. The neighbors were all pleasant enough but my sense of being an emigre in another country stood like an eight foot fence between us.

So come the short season I would work like a dog to fill my own bit of the landscape with color, would battle the rabbits that somehow wintered over in the harsh climate which took the perennials I planted as a bunny buffet. I was astounded when the antique rose the prior owners had asked to dig up and take with them (it was originally their grandmother’s; what could I say but yes?) came back from the deep hole they had left and I had filled and would bloom every June on my birthday.

I ripped the monstrously over grown evergreens from the front of the house with a tow rope, pulling up tremendous root balls with my car and a borrowed tow strap, replacing them with a small Karensansui garden of rocks and a few evergreens, a horizontal juniper (Prince William I think it was called) that mimicked the bent evergreens of Japanese painting, a globular conifer the name of which I forget , ajuga and sandwort and bits of Irish moss that never really took.

Because I never gardened in New Orleans all but the most common plants here seem at once alien and familiar, and I walk through the surrounding streets like an astronaut on a strange planet, marveling at the native life that thrives in such a climate, the carnival blocks of unseasonable (to me) flowers and bracts spread beneath the bare water oaks and blazing cypress. The camellias are familiar but I am forced to troll the internet to name the cassia and golden rain tree, wonder at the shrub with the Odd blooms that seem neither flower not bract, a tight cluster of blood red stamens without visible petals that look like cuttings from another planet.

After last year’s freeze that left everything brown and gray, the colors of Fall in the far north, the colors of the Fall of 2005 when generations of landscaping drowned, I think I understand why I spent so many hours in the yard during the short growing seasons of Fargo, why I struggled to keep that potted jasmine alive inside through the winter. To go from New Orleans to a cold climate meant to sever my connections to an endless and lush green, to surrender endless months of perfume for the charcoal landscape of evergreens in a snow white landscape, at once museum beautiful and laboratory sterile. I missed the softer pastels of banana and palm, ginger and camellia: a sensory deprivation as striking as the long dark nights of 47° north, closer to Ultima Thule than to the equator.