Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The Sleeping Grounds

On a typically bleak winter's day, nestled among the dormant plant life in the gardens near the Simthsonian museums were various evergreens, such as imposing hollies, standing at attention on the grounds of the Smithson castle.

However, there were surprising specimens nearby, in the smaller gardens. The Ripley Garden has an old, woody rosemary plant, looking for all the world like an unpotted bonsai, its branches tumbling, its plentiful, verdant needles as supple and fragrant as any to be found.

Another grizzled veteran of a rosmarinus officinalis was spotted in another nearby garden, a space which also contains a good-sized lambs' ear, as well as a busy thyme. It was refreshing to see these Mediterranean transplants thrive in the hothouse atmosphere of Washington, as well as in its chilly backside.

Now, this foray was not the first time I've seen apparently inappropriate horticultural displays in official Washington. Some years ago, I first saw a runaway rosemary in a garden across from the Botanical Garden, a bushy, three-foot tall patch conveniently located near a bench in the garden there. Of course, I was shocked (I say, shocked!) to see this plant thriving in a humid Washington summer, this refugee from a more arid clime. And not just a bit of rosemary, either, but a decently sized patch, in a stamp of a garden, containing a fountain and statue sculpted by the artist that created Lady Liberty, near a tiny (?office) building that looks incongruously like a tiny Provencal cottage. This, at the bottom of Capitol Hill and across the street from a faceless, fortress-like government building.

This winter quasi-hibernation that we inhabit at this time of year causes us to dream of spring, and planting, which can be a dangerous thing, particularly for someone like me, who, let's say, has a very dark green thumb, but tries year after year to produce something living, and keep it going, no matter that you have no natural talent in this area.

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