Thursday, September 10, 2009

IN “A GARDEN GREEN,” with apologies to Robert Louis Stevenson


Every year, my sister-in-law Lori sends me pictures of the garden my brother Paul plants and tends in northern California. Paul has a “plus-green” thumb, and the gardens he creates are paradisiacal sites designed to inspire serenity in those who visit. One of the plants of which Paul is particularly fond is wisteria, the woody climbing vine with violet and purple blossoms.

I know that Paul must have memories of this climbing vine that formed a bower over a small bridge my Grandfather Paul constructed in the side yard bordering the old Greenlaw home in Franklinton, Louisiana. It was planted not far from a tall pear tree that arched over a free-standing swing enjoyed by grandchildren who wanted to “go up in the air so blue” (A CHILD’S GARDEN OF VERSE). The entire side yard was our playground when we made summer-long visits to Franklinton, a sleepy town of about 2,000 people. However, most of the time we steered clear of the wisteria vine because it hummed with giant bumble bees, one of which once attacked me when I buried my face in the heavily-scented blossoms.

In California, one of Paul’s wisteria vines climbs a wooden lattice; the other seems to have a life of its own overlooking a barbecue pit that is being used as a stand for flower pots. The entire yard is a profusion of color and arrangement of orange nasturtiums, red salvia, petunias, and hollyhocks spilling over stones and placed among pieces of driftwood Paul collected from the nearby beach on the Pacific Ocean. It’s a place of small nooks and wooden bridges – oriental, yet very original in design. The back porch runs the length of the house, and a nook just outside the back door holds a hot tub. Bird baths nestle in clumps of elephant ears and fern; begonias bloom in wooden tubs. The stone and cedar house with a bay window in front is surrounded by a forest of cedar and redwood trees. When I first saw Paul’s garden, I exclaimed: “An artist lives here.”(Actually, he is an artist.) The entire site reflects a soul at work.

I’ve read that the world’s largest wisteria vine has been discovered in Sierra Madre, California and that it’s more than an acre in size and weighs 250 tons! Some varieties of wisteria are edible, and others can be used for wine-making, but, even further, some varieties are toxic. I know that Paul’s vines are purely ornamental and grow well in that moist, northern California climate, thriving despite many gray days of partial shade. I’ve visited the site twice in the past 15 years and was amazed at the wonderful wisteria vines – at the overwhelming beauty and design of Paul’s garden and yard. When I told Paul that he had my father’s green thumb, he replied: “I’m further along than that.” He’s right, of course – my father’s yard was awash with blooms, but Paul’s place is idyllic!

Note: Photos were taken by Lori Marquart, Paul’s wife. Also, copies of Paul’s paintings are on the covers of at least half of my 21 books, particularly those published by Border Press, Sewanee, Tennessee.
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