As St. Patrick’s Day approaches my anticipation heightens with each periodic burst of mild air. Each day a strengthening sun calls crocuses and daffodils to rise. No matter, there are still snow patches at the end of March, they cool and temper to a suddenly too warm day. I peel layers of down and wool as my activity warms me.

It’s time to begin. Time to start in gardens. I know what I’ll do first. Leaves having lain in moist beds since autumn rains, oak and maple matted and stuck to frosted soil, can be pulled off in small sheets. Nothing more delightful than to reveal strong yellow-green growth, musty smell of humus. Even wearing neoprene, the slight bite in my fingertips from part-frozen earth lends urgency to my task. I resist gloves, preferring to make direct contact in all seasons, but late winter gardening demands they be worn. 

Warmth on my back as I crouch along the garden border, still stiff from the winter couch. I know it will be weeks before I freely manoeuvre through the beds, haul soil and mulch, heavy clumps of transplants, and drag hoses.

Now the bed free and breathing, I pull the trusty red pruner from the back pocket of my jeans. I move to clip dried, bleached, yet still fragrant Perovskia, the Russian Sage. Left to bloom out its blue scraggly twist in the fall, now broken and leaning from months of snow and ice. Shape it toward its base, to any new pale growth along the stems, a technique I use with Lavender. If only wood, go further to the bottom tuft of green. By May it will be full and fragrant in the breeze.

These tasks bring joy to feel the life around me, the life within me. To prune and snip rose bushes encourages April growth. Recall how it’s done: just above a five-leaflet leaf. Methodical, precise, satisfying labor creates bloom, and when repeated, more bloom.

April trees – yellow and green buds,

towering branches sway

trill of pine warbler

About the Writer: 

Mary Ellen Gambutti writes about her life as an Air Force daughter, search and reunion with her birth family, her gardening career, and her survival of a stroke at mid-life. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Gravel Magazine, Wildflower Muse, The Remembered Arts Journal, The Vignette Review, Modern Creative Life, Halcyon Days, The Book Ends Review, Nature Writing, Post Card Shorts, Memoir Magazine, Borrowed Solace, Thousand and One Stories, and Story Land Literary Review. Her memoir chapbook, ‘Stroke Story, My Journey There and Back,’ is self-published. She and her husband live in Sarasota, Florida, with their rescued Schnoodle.

 Eva’s Comments:

Landscapes form one of the many genres of art. The word ‘landscape’ is translated from the Dutch ‘landschap’ which refers to an area of land or ground. In art, ‘landscape paintings or drawings’ refer to works of art whose main subject matter is the depiction of a scene, usually encompassing nature. In such works, the viewer will see trees, flowers in a field, mountains and valleys, the sea and the beach, a river and riverbank, to mention some natural scenery. The viewer would perhaps notice that these scenes are idealisations of the real place or it can be an imaginary place, like those painted by Chinese ink painters. Chinese Landscapes, established since the 4th century BCE, are known by their definition: shan shui, meaning mountain, water. 

Landscapes started out as a backdrop to include human activity. In many Renaissance paintings, scenery was added to historical and religious paintings but viewers were not meant to focus on them but on the historical, mythological and religious stories that the paintings extolled. As many painters during the 16th century were mostly religious, one would find many spiritual elements (not all to do with Christianity) in their landscape paintings as well. For examples, see works by Leonardo Da Vinci, Giovanni Bellini, Caravaggio. 

As the genre developed, artists painted landscapes in response to the political and social issues that were taking place during their time. In 18th century England, new technologies enabled the landscaping of gardens and the landscaped gardens started to be depicted in art. Landscaping is a symbol of the nation’s increasing wealth and the power of Man over Nature.

In France, especially in the 19th century, landscape paintings became a sought after leisurely activity for many artists. Painting en plein-air developed by the Barbizon School with artists like Camille Corot began to influence artists throughout Europe and the United States and paved the way for Impressionism in France.

Claude Monet (1840-1926) needs little introduction. The man who started the Impressionist Movement with a painting, ‘Impression, Sunrise’ (1873) and was critiqued for his painting depicting a sunrise by art critique Louis Leroy, went on to paint more impressions of landscapes and cityscapes. 

‘Poppy Field’ or ‘Coquelicots’ (1873) was painted in Argenteuil, the place where Monet called home. He moved to Argenteuil with his wife Camille and son Jean after his return from England in 1871. ‘Coquelicots’ was painted en plein-air, in open-air, which is the way Monet preferred to paint. When he was painting, portable easels were made easily available and paints can be bought in tubes, much like today, which made painting outside a studio accessible. 

In this painting, the viewer can see an expanse of land with the foreground dotted red with poppies. Two figures—a mother and daughter pair—are inserted into the landscape, indicating the Classical notions of landscape paintings: landscapes as a backdrop to human activity. The painting is postcard perfect with muted hues of greens, blues and reds; soft browns can also be found. The visual sense is one of blurriness which can be detected in all of Monet’s paintings. This blurriness adds an element of the abstract to his work. It also underscores the Movement’s name—Impressionism. As with all impressions, the details are often obscured and only an “impression” is formed of reality.

Claude Monet (1840-1926), Poppies1873, Oil on canvas, H. 50; W.65 cm. Paris, Musée d’Orsay (Etienne Moreau-Nélaton donation, 1906) © RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d’Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

What is a Haibun:

A Haibun is a form of writing that originated in Japan in the 17th century. The form combines a prose poem with a haiku, a very short poem. Haibun has a wide range that could include a short story, an essay, a journal entry, even a memoir piece but it is usually used to describe a trip and (in my view) can be seen as a travelogue of sorts. 

The creator of the haibun was a Japanese man named, Matsuo Bashō. He wrote about his travels, often paying tribute to specific patrons and events. 

A typical haibun would pay homage to a place, person, object or event through its description of the subject in an objective manner. The prose will be followed by a haiku in finishing. Mary Ellen’s work is a fine example of a haibun, written in English. 

For those who are interested in this form of writing, you can visit this website for more examples.

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3 thoughts on “Late Winter Gardening By Mary Ellen Gambutti

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