The Spiritual Gardener: Moab and the Queen of Denmark

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Here, a brush with royalty and a brief reprieve from winter.

A couple weeks ago, my daughter went with me to Mexico on a business trip on Presidents’ Day weekend, while my wife and son went to the snow in the Poconos with some friends.

Mexico’s sunshine, with 80 degrees F. (26 C.) and mellow old walls all covered with bougainvillea were, I am sure, better. Not to mention the fabulous food.

We stayed at San Luis Potosí, San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato and the Four Seasons in Mexico City, where we twice had the honor of seeing the tall and immensely impressive Queen of Denmark, who was in Mexico for a state visit.

She sailed majestically across the lovely inner courtyard of the hotel, passing right by the table where we were having dinner to go into the bar and order herself a martini, improbably, but I saw her do it with my own eyes. My daughter was enchanted to see a real queen, and she did not disappoint. We also toured the television studios of Televisa with business associates and went to the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe together, which was fascinating to see.

The next weekend, I was in Denver for business and then drove over the mountains to Palisade to see my mother and brother. On Sunday we defied the discouraging weather report of rain and went to Moab for what turned out to be a fairly glorious day of hiking and remedial landscape vistas for my hungry eyes. We hiked “Negro Bill’s Canyon”, we saw the intense red rock canyon of the Colorado upstream of Moab, and also went through Arches National Monument and out to Dead Horse Point, which I had never seen, though I grew up so near it … all in one busy and restorative day.

How fine it was to go hiking in this splendid landscape, and then to top it all off we had a wonderful, big Mexican lunch in Moab.

Back home, we had the first taste of spring.

Much of the deepest joy of gardening arises, I find, in the appreciation of minute and subtle details in the garden, which requires an intense, patient and close-up scrutiny of the garden denizens. The closer we look and the more subtle our appreciation, the more we notice, for so much of what happens in the garden is minute, subtle and incremental.

And I am sure I am not the first gardener to notice how greatly this minuscule scrutiny is repaid in happy dividends of perception and understanding. Well, on a lovely spring-like morning recently, when we had a mild respite from our persistently foul winter weather, I got this year’s first dividend.

While taking Cosimo for a walk, we saw some of the earliest blooms of the year, not counting a few plum blossoms on the golf course and a few crab apple blossoms on Vine Street in Philadelphia that had opened experimentally in January, and also not counting, to be strictly accurate, the few pale pink roses that are still blooming from last year on the Gothic windows by our front door. And the flowers we saw on our walk were at a neighbor’s house, who has some lovely star magnolias that I always admire, half a dozen open crocuses (ours are up but rather chilled and ragged looking), and a patch of snowdrops.

Then, over the weekend, I actually got to go out into my garden to do some good before the bad weather descended again. It was so warm and sunny as my son and I were eating our cereal on the back stoop, that I actually considered spending the day in shorts, before wisely putting jeans on instead.

I began by cutting all the dead wood out of the rhododendrons on the patio, and they look amazingly refreshed and tidied up for spring as a result. Then I blew all the dirt and leaves out of the garage, and got a bit carried away and blew off the patio, porch, driveway and all our sidewalks. Feeling like a border collie at the national sheep trials, I then cleaned up the leaves that were chased into the street as a result. I raked up all the leaves and debris in the side yard where the hot tub is, and cut back the ivy on the front grass.

It was good, hard physical labor, but left me feeling old and tired, which are feelings I suppose I should begin to get used to, my children breezily explain, as the small ship of my life sails further and further away from the shores of youth.

Around our house we have several plants whose floral buds are just on the cusp of opening: the acid yellow forsythia, the magenta magnolia soulangeana and its dazzling white stellata cousin, a carmine Christmas camellia, one or two early daffodils and a bunch of hyacinths. The other night, driving home last night at 6:30, my car thermometer registered 75 on a sunny (and technically still winter) evening! For the last two nights, we were able to sit out on the patio and drink wine after I got home from work, and that was perfectly delightful, though it was still a bit cool so that we had to light the fire pit.

Finally, the wait is over and two things have actually flowered outdoors in our garden already. The first were those tiny little weeds that grow in small basal clumps very flat to the ground, with lacey leaves and their tiny white flowers, whose specialty is blooming in winter when nothing else does and then profusely shedding seed all over the place before the gardener can get into the garden and kill them. That is, always assuming he was too lazy (safe assumption) to get rid of them in the fall when by rights he should have been more active, which explains why I seem to have thousands of them running riot all over my garden this spring. And next year too, if I don’t get them out now while they are in flower.

One of the first harbingers of oncoming spring, the sulfurous blooms of forsythia are everywhere beginning to swell.

But I can scarcely count a weed as the first flower of the year, it is too shaming, so instead I give the prize to the tiny patch of common vinca by the porch bed, which this morning pipped the hyacinths and beat all the rest of the early contenders by producing precisely two, quarter-sized violet flowers. And I wonder whether the week of warm weather accelerated them more than others this year, or whether in fact they in their unassuming way are the first every year, and this is just the first time I have been subtle and attentive enough to notice. Quite likely the latter, I suppose.

Driving to work in the city one morning recently, I noticed an area where a storm drainage has been dammed up to create a small ornamental pond and on the bank of this there solemnly stood a magnificent blue heron, silently and stealthily fishing in the clear morning sunlight. It was an awesome sight and put a spring in my step all day. Now, if only it were spring!



David Jensen writes the popular American blog “The Garden Interior,” which chronicles his garden in southern New Jersey. Please visit at You can follow David Jensen on Twitter at @GardenInterior.