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Things that Move and Delight

Monday, September 3, 2007

Not many people are aware that tuberoses exist. Their robust fragrance is the basis of many perfumes, but who thinks about them, who grows them? They aren't grown for their beauty in the garden; they're grown simply for their scent. On the hoof, they don't look like much:Simple, strap-like leaves collapse in a heap at the base of the plant. Along about late July, they begin to send up their spikes, whose waxy tubular white flowers begin opening in the first week of August. Yes, the garden has gone to weeds, and to indigo buntings. That's all right. I can still find the tomatoes and limas and mizuma greens.

I stayed overnight at the beautifully preserved and tended home of a brilliant garden friend named Gordon Vujevic near Youngstown, Ohio several years ago. It was autumn, and Gordon gave me a room with a little white bed with an iron frame and an ivory chenille bedspread--the kind my grandmother and mom had. The room had high ceilings and wallpaper with a wildflower motif. There were old books on the shelf and a chamberpot on the mirrored dresser. And Gordon had put a vase of fresh-picked tuberoses on the nightstand. "If they get to be too much, you can move them out in the hall," he said. I inhaled their exotic fragrance, and said, "This could never be too much."

By 2 AM they were out in the hall. They were keeping me awake. That same fall, Gordon sent me a brown paper bag full of tuberose bulbs from his garden. They look like garlic cloves, but what wonder is locked inside them! and what a gift, that gives and gives.

This is a flower of the night, sending its chemical lure far out into the still moist air, aiming for big fat-bodied sphinx moths with their long tongues. It emanates its scent when darkness falls, and ceases at dawn. It is powerful. One flower can perfume a room. As I have become accustomed to the scent, and enjoy the wild dreams it brings me, I now keep eight or more flowers in a little vase by the bedside. When I stir in the night I get waves of fragrance. I've also got a poet's jasmine plant in the bedroom window, and I move that to the nightstand every evening. The mingled scents are intoxicating. I will miss them so when frost comes.

The jasmine will go into the greenhouse should it begin to sulk in the south window. The tuberoses I'll dig and store in the basement before the ground freezes. I'll break apart the clumps of clustered bulbs and plant them in long thin rows in May. This was my best year ever--ten bloom stalks from perhaps thirty bulbs. Soon I'll have enough to give away. But you don't give tuberoses to just anyone. You must give them to someone who understands.
This little Hall vase is perfect for tuberoses, almost as if it were designed to support them in water. Perhaps it was. People back in the 30's probably appreciated and grew tuberoses a lot more than we deskrats do today. I saw some in a vase at the natural foods store called Farmacy in Athens. The woman behind the counter noticed me noticing them. Our eyes met.
" Tuberoses!" I crowed.
"YES!" she crowed back. "Aren't they delightful?"
"Did YOU grow them?" I asked, already knowing the answer.
We compared notes on culture and agreed this was a splendid year for tuberoses. I encouraged her to break apart the clusters of little bulbs and plant them singly, whatever the garden books said. She said she would.

The nighthawks are still coming through. Like tuberoses, they're a late-summer delight. They fill my heart as they row over, white wing slashes flashing in the low autumnal light.
They look down on me with their liquid eyes, these strange bird angels. How I love them, and how I'll miss them when frost comes.
In December, I'll have been blogging for two years. Though at first I felt a strong temptation to write about anything, delightful or sad, that occupied my mind, that urge is gone. I can't and won't do that any more. Some flowers give out fragrance in the darkness; others close up, fold in on themselves. This old world keeps coming up with beauty and grace, in an abundance that staggers me. I keep going.


I did an image search on Nighthawks and the image I found that i really liked was on your blog. Did you do the photo(s)? I grew up living in coastal Maine and used to love to watch them when they would come out at dusk.

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