The hollows of winter are gray and black lines by Piet Mondrian, whose volumed boxes are filled or empty, rich and poor, according to how your eye copes with them, the time you expend in pursuit of all of their quiet wind and weather and the patience they ask of you. They are indeed conundrums, emblematic of the manner in which one may decide garden change (remembered or on the spot, even though the spot may be but a repeated summer memory or one as close as a much-stared-at window view). Both are as difficult as the recollection of a specific Mondrian, blue or blue-gray, small or smaller still, on wood or canvas, smooth or with craquelure, free or under glass, internally framed and, of course, where was I when I first saw it, how old was I, in what mood, in or just out of love? How long did I look at it? Was it in a museum? Or a book? But none of that was so. It was in my parents’ living room, where, on an extended summer loan, an early Mondrian, on wood, glassed, stood on the Chickering piano and it had two small yellow squares among the grays and blues.
To the terrace adjoining the revised potager has gone an elderly weeping mulberry in front of a boldly painted lattice screen. It is firmly staked against fall or tilt and I see it as a beginning of a set piece, a still life. Now stubbed back for winter, the mulberry, always a tardy performer, will, come spring, late in the season put forth its pendulous cords. When they are full-down, nearly level with the red sets of the terrace, I will put a two-gallon Haws watering can at its skirts, just so. I will also polish the brass on the rose sprinkler spout and fill the can so that it doesn’t tip, tilt, fall, or move from its spot. Willow bark will go in it and the can will be employed for rooting cuttings.
Out the winter dining table window, due south, stands a quadrant of (I do use this as a barometer of recall) chaemycyparis pisifera aurea pendula grown far too exuberantly for what else grows there, four weeping dwarf Chinese dogwoods of perfectly serene and well-mannered comportment. The golden cypress is a most welcome burnish in the composition’s seasonal Dutch drabs, but too big is too big. Scale is all. Elements must fit or else the entire composition is awry.
Prune hard, of course. But how? Spherically, echoing the dogwood? Or severely cubed to give bolster to the dogwood? My hands go up and I frame and frame, cutting here, tidying there, at times transplanting the quadrant. But not until spring. The gold of the cypress is too valuable to the composition. I could not, at any rate, bear looking at stubs for months.
What is it, after all, but blues, grays, blacks, tans with yes that yellow on that piano years ago?