The Spiritual Gardener: Bird Rescue and Orange Blossom

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Eight straight days of rain and fog last week have left one feeling slightly depressed. How do people in Washington and Oregon, not to mention England, cope with the endless blight of fog and rain? Finally, after half a day of sun, you could almost hear the moisture being wrung out of the world’s sopping wet dishcloth, and the sidewalks were steaming in the moist heat. Don’t you agree with me that, after this atrocious winter, we have waited long enough for the tulipomania of spring?


This morning, I was in the garden cutting peonies and irises like a one-armed paper-hanger, for all the vases in the house, when my trusted canine assistant Cosimo came rushing excitedly up to me, then dashed away to the patio, his unmistakable way of saying he wanted me to follow him as he had something really important to show me.  He was so frantic that I assumed he must be after a chipmunk, as that is normally the only thing that gets him that excited, and they do tend to crisscross the patio, almost it seems to tease him, to his great annoyance. When I got there, he was pointing to the fountain.

And as if he were a dog trained for the movies, he lifted a paw and gently placed it on the small electrical box the fountain is plugged in to. And there on top of the box, an inch from his paw, was a fledgling bird, a Carolina wren, which had probably fallen out of the nest in the house gable high overhead, distressed and cheeping pitifully.

Now, Cosimo’s view on birds is that it is his job to chase them off the grass, and he has spent many happy days bothering them mercilessly. At our last house in Colorado, he used to go flying out onto the golf course to disturb groups of ravens who used to like to alight on the broad fairway. We allow him to harass these birds not because we are opposed to their being on our grass, but just because a collie needs a job to do and this seems a harmless one. But the wrens on the patio are semi-tame, pets almost, and he knows better than to bother them. If a dozen of them are twittering and chattering in the pyracantha, he might rush around excitedly because of the commotion, but he would never chase or hurt them.  He is smart enough to know that these birds are special, and different from other birds, and that is why he wanted to let me know that a baby bird of their kind needed help.

So I brought down our antique bird cage from the guest room, put newspaper in it and a piece of bread and some fresh water; then, with some difficulty, I captured the little guy and put him in the cage.  His parents were of course frantic, especially when I was trying to catch him, but then spent the rest of the day patrolling around his cage and, I think though I did not actually see it, feeding him.  We are hopeful that he can live a week or two in the cage and then will be large enough and strong enough to be set free and fly away, as we did a few years ago with a robin fledgling Cosimo and I similarly rescued.

The “Eden” roses are just opening this weekend, and how I love their fresh pink blossoms, that fade to pale pink and then almost cream as they age.  All the roses are starting to go off, and so are all the rhododendrons now.


The rhododendrons are just starting to bloom, led off as always by the early Korean rhododendrons.


The irises and peonies are at their peak and, but for the wet weather, the garden would be at its very apogee this week.  I deadheaded all the hundreds of irises in the garden this weekend; that may seem like a tedious chore, but actually it is easy and rewarding. The great flaw of irises, apart from their susceptibility to borers (though God has never suggested they bother mine, thankfully) is that their blooms only last two days or so. Although there are many blooms on a stalk, having the slimy blobs of the spent blooms hanging there too, greatly reduces their charm, in my opinion, so a gardener who feels that way has to strike them off by hand.

One morning last week, in a brief respite from the rain, I walked past the two ornate, sort of gothic windows we have in the vestibule by our front door. They have intricately carved oak embrasures and are very ecclesiastic in their architectural decoration. Outside, I have trained a now very vigorous Cécile Brünner rose to climb around them, and this happy climber you can now see through the window, covered in masses of rosebuds that are about to open.  Through the two panes of this handsome window and beyond this flowering rose you can look right down the broad sweep of the crescent bed and take in its whole length along the driveway.

And it is alight with flowers right now: mostly irises and peonies, but with roses and lupines and other things blooming too.  I can’t think when, if ever, the garden has been this lovely; I was transfixed for a moment and had to stop right there, and stare at this beautiful scene.  It is worth all the work during the year to have powerful epiphanies of beauty like this from time to time.  I guess it would be more accurate to say that garden designs are eventually realized, sometimes, but gardens themselves go on changing and are never fully realized, a term which implies a finalization or completion. By definition, that moment is never attained.

The mock orange is blooming, as are the trees that bloom with millions of tiny, white, bell-shaped flowers; I wish I knew what they are called, but I inherited mine when we moved here and am not familiar with them, though I greatly admire them.

Together with the philadelphus, they fill the back yard with a very strong perfume, heavily suggestive of orange blossom.  The only thing I remember that was more powerful was once when I was at university and on the Easter break and I was lucky enough to be in Seville, Spain when its countless orange trees were all in blossom.  Heaven.  I notice that the tiny fig I planted several years ago has finally put on some serious size and is now as large as a decent bush.  I have always wanted to grow a fig and this small creature gives me great satisfaction.  The garden writer Henry Mitchell laid down the law that no garden should be without both a fig tree and a grape vine and, having both, I naturally think this is very sound.

In our garden we do not seriously grow food for the table, but even our mostly decorative garden produces some benefits in this area: the figs (someday, probably to the benefit of a future homeowner I would guess), raspberries, peaches (for squirrels, I get the blossoms), mint, grapes, rosemary, basil for pesto, chives and so on.

It was another hard week at my day job, so I purposely tried not to do much in the way of chores over the weekend, and instead tried to flop on the porch with a good book as much as possible, to enjoy the cool weather and feed my loyal dog and my tribe of wrens bits of pretzels. I am reading We, the Drowned, a curious Danish novel by Carsten Jensen, and this seems appropriate, as we are all feeling rather drowned in these persistent spring rains.


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.