Bathing With Citrus
I was recently sent a link to an utterly lovely set of pictures taken by a Japanese photographer, who did studies of her grandmother and her odd-eyed cat over the course of a dozen years. One of them shows granny in a tub full of fruit, with the cat batting gently at one of them. After a bit of searching, I realized that the floating fruits were yuzu, a kind of Asian citrus with fragrant skin. Evidently taking a hot bath with yuzu fruit is traditional on the night of the winter solstice. Here’s the link:
I found this idea utterly delightful, so much so that I decided to remove all the cat clutter that currently fills my huge tub and take a solstice soak myself. I am quite sure that my cat will find this amusing, if not amazing, since the tub usually holds her extra litter and huge jars of cat food. (Unless cat food is immediately put into big jars, she will chew and claw through any kind of bag to get at it. Even if her food dish is full. Or perhaps especially if her dish is full…
Short on Yuzu
Sadly, yuzu is not in great supply at my local stores. However, I will make do with lemons and oranges, which will be colorful and fun, plus I can eat them if I get bored. For scent, I’ll buy a little citrus called Buddha’s Hand, which has thick, leathery yellow skin with an engagingly lovely fragrance. A citron, this multi-fingered fruit is traditionally used in China and Japan to scent homes, and indeed, a single fruit will fill a room, especially if the air is warm. My local grocery store has them in right now, perhaps to serve our many islanders of Asian descent.
A recent hard freeze, prolonged and deeply dry, has left gardens all over the region looking hammered. I’ve heard from many gardeners who fear that their gardens will never recover, and even a few who are planning to rip out everything and start again. I’m interested to notice that at this point in my life, drastic weather events leave me feeling more interested in change than in the past.
Happily for those of us who can’t not garden, garden making allows plenty of room for change; indeed, it may be the most forgiving art form (or hobby, if you prefer to think of it that way) we can practice. When we make mistakes–as all of us do, time after time–our plants are very apt to recover without much harm. If they do die, as some inevitably do, they can nearly always be replaced, and the golden few that can’t never wither in our imaginations but bloom on, perfect and immortal, in the ghostly gardens of Tir-nan-og.
Make Room For The New
Even total disasters have their compensations, for the list of plants we want to grow is always larger than the available space, no matter how big the garden. The initial pang may be severe when great trees fall in wind storms or whole sections of border are flooded by torrential rains, but familiarity with natural cycles makes gardeners amazingly resilient. We may curse and rant and swear that never again will we lavish so much love on anything ephemeral, yet every spring sees us back in business, up to our knees in manure, our heads full of seductive dreams.
I’ve kept garden journals for many years, finding them heartening and often humorous reading. My favorite time for journal review is between the dark end of the old year and the bright beginning of the new, the traditional time in which to examine the past and plan for the future. As the great seasonal tide of the year turns, plants and people alike feel the change. From now on, every day will be a few minutes longer. After the long Solstice night passes, buds begin to swell on shrub and tree, while underground, root and bulb start to stir.
Looking With A Kindly Eye
The return of the light brings a renewal of spirit to the gardener as well, reawakening our desire to create, to make, to achieve. Leaving the garden in slumberous peace, we can retire to a comfortable, well-lighted place to review our garden journal notes, old plans and planting diagrams. We are looking not for shortcomings (many though there may be), nor for failures of accomplishment or intent, but for progress, however modest.
Garden making is a lengthy process, one which lasts the lucky a lifetime, and there is no hurry about it but the natural impatience of the smitten to see plants bloom before they are even bought, let alone planted. Take this time not to criticize but to congratulate yourself for what ever good your garden has brought you this year.
Many of the gifts of the garden are easily listed; the long awaited peony that finally bloomed its heart out, the roses that showered the grass with pastel petals, the lilies that spilled haunting perfume on the night air, the triumphant blaze of autumn color, the understated delights of lacy branch tracery against the pale winter sky. Other of its gifts are less obvious, but even longer lasting–the glow of health that accompanies modest, pleasurable exercise, the lifting of the heart when a beloved blossom blooms just for us, the raising of our spirits when we lose our troubles in the garden’s simple chores.
Amen, I think.