planting daffodils

planting bulbs

Yesterday, during a break in the storm, I planted daffodils with my granddaughter Kelly. She’s 3. We had a bag containing 50 bulbs and we planted them all in rough areas where I want a bit of colour next spring. She used a small trowel and fork to begin the hole and then I used a bigger garden fork brought from England by John’s mother after her mother died in the early 1980s. It’s a fork that travelled from Sheffield, where John’s grandparents lived and where his mother was born in 1920 and where John was also born in 1947, to Felixstowe on the Suffolk coast where Grandmother Mabel went to live after she was widowed.

When the holes were deep enough for the bulbs, I scattered a handful of bone and kelp meal and Kelly placed the bulbs in, rooted end first, three or four in each hole, and then we covered them up with the soil and moss we’d dug up. I was surprised at how patient she was. Her mum and dad said she wants to be a gardener when she grows up and she certainly has the stamina for it at this point in her life, because part-way through our planting, it began to rain again. Digging, placing the bulbs, covering them up…and walking to the next area. I’ll take a photograph of them when they’re in bloom, I promised her.

We planted ten bulbs in the little enclosure where I put a copper beech tree the summer after my mother died. I planted it in memory of my parents, in memory of Bukovina, where my grandfather came from in the early years of the 20th century. Bukovina means “place of beech trees” and this tree will outlive us.  Its leaves are the most beautiful coppery brown and they have a lightness to them.

While we were planting daffodils, Auntie Angie was walking around with her brother Brendan (Kelly’s father) and Henry, who is 1. Angie showed her nephew and niece a tiny salamander she found under a rock.



It warmed up in Angie’s hand and was eager to return to its rock. I thought of a poem by Denise Levertov, “Living”, which somehow was about our day, our lives:

A red salamander
so cold and so
easy to catch, dreamily

moves his delicate feet
and long tail. I hold
my hand open for him to go.

Each minute the last minute.

life in the (bee-loud) forest

When I taught writing classes many years ago, I used Denise Levertov’s poem “Life in the Forest” as an object lesson in the use of commas. It was a poem I loved —

The woman whose hut was mumbled by termites

–it would have to go,

be gone,

not soon, but some day:

she knew it and shrugged —

had friends among the feathers,

quick hearts.

I’ve just been out logging the kale forest, last year’s “trees”.  The garden needs the room for squash and other things, not the least of which is this year’s kale. But when I reached for the thick trunks, all I could hear was bees. The yellow blossoms were alive with them. I carefully pulled up the plants and set them by the compost so the bees could continue to do their work. The industrious bees barely noticed I was there.


The volunteers I transplanted last month have come along nicely


and we’ll barely notice last year’s plants have gone — though the bees will have to find other flowers to sustain them. Luckily the vegetable garden is filled with roses and campanula:


I have three small pots of black Tuscan kale to plant out now, the kind with lovely pebbled leaves and an earthy flavour. I look forward to eating a cultivar I know the name of. What I currently have is mongrel — red Russian, Portuguese, Siberian, and collards have all been cross-pollinated by those bees (or their grandparents) and the offspring grow to such healthy heights that I have a hard time uprooting them to let their own children have a turn. Some resemble the parents. Some are deeply lobed, some ruffled, some streaked with purple, some as grey-green as winter rain.

That poem I taught for its punctuation speaks to me in a different way now, with an urgency I wouldn’t have understood 30 years ago.

The trees

began to come in of themselves, evenings.

The termites labored.

The hut’s green moss of shadows

gave harbor

to those who sheltered her.