Of course, Evelyn Nilles is not his name and he just might be female so much does he resemble so many. “He” is that transportable Englishman, perhaps titled but in a minor county way, who is at every garden do on both sides of the shared ocean, who knows everyone and nothing at all and has become indispensable to the contemporary garden and its various affairs.
All agree that no garden is complete without still or moving water, but lack there still will be without a forest no matter how bijou. Call it copse or spinney or bosque, just so long as it is definitely a wood. The reasons are many and obvious. No gazebo or ramada nor certainly an umbrella is ever equal to its shade, which is always moving. None of them can equal the coolness they present nor the odors of a patch of woods, nor the quickness of squirrels, chipmunks, birds in general and mourning doves and woodpeckers in particular.
Calloo callay, ruinous day, again it is on me as it is each winter this time of January, as surely as hard frost and wild wind, this empty thing, the season’s suspension, my mind an endless slum, the spirit stuck, emotional heartstrings as vibrant as lard. I am as empty of endeavor as any gardener in August. Last though they may only a few weeks, the pits of January yawn as fell as the stony face of tragedy. Take heart, said Euripides, for great sorrow, when it reaches its height, lasts but a little time. Enough to undo the lion, said Aristotle, through simple boredom.
Catalogs suffocate in the post office box and mulch the desk. They are in full spate now like melt in spring thaw, an avalanche without end, roaring like a waterfall, often coming in threes and twos, marked either to “resident” or less vaguely to your neighbor, and write to them as you might to be less generous in the supply, they still relentlessly arrive, the result of having ordered a single package of seeds years ago.
Nothing crisps the heart of a gardener with greater fury than a low shadowed, endless winter afternoon, windless, throbbingly cold and soundless, lonelier than the end of love. Hopeless endless, but then he opens the pages of a precocious seed catalog, and then the timeless dream forms again and he is turning the earth, inhaling its unlocking odors as if a book of secrets, hoeing, pushing, copping, making a fine, pouring, friable tilt. One is straight out of an old woodcut, better shoes, perhaps, but equally mired, the tool much the same, the back similarly bent.
If only Barnsley were an autumn molter, I might prognosticate the coming winter by the length and luxury of his incoming coat, but he doesn’t shed and gets a clipping every four months, whatever the weather. If other pelt-bearers were around, like ermine, sable, or bear, I might be able to forecast with great accuracy and better The Farmer’s Almanac. Certain sorts of caterpillars enter this category, as do the activities of chipmunks and squirrels and then there is always grandfather’s rheumatic knee.