No vember

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WHEN I WAS ABOUT 9, my uncle taught me this ditty:

No birds No bees No flowers No trees

No wonder…November.

I still find it amusing, even though it’s not true. The goldfinches are still at the thistle feeder. I saw bees burrowing in the catmint just the other day. My cimicifuga sent up about a dozen white bottle-brush flowers, and even the rhododendrons, below — which I thought didn’t bloom this year because the deer had eaten all the buds — have a few stunted magenta flowers on them, months behind schedule. The trees are still pretty leafy, and seem particularly brilliant this autumn.

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Perhaps because I’m leaving? Tomorrow I’m heading to Brooklyn to start my experiment in leading a double life — the Hamptons/New York City circuit that so many take for granted, but for me is a whole new chapter.

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On Monday morning I’ll be in my Prospect Heights pied-a-terre, awaiting delivery of most of the furniture I put into storage a year-and-a-half ago, when I came out to live in East Hampton full-time. That was by default, as some of you may remember, when the Brooklyn place I was to have moved into around the same time I closed on this Hamptons cottage fell through at the last minute.

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Above: Awesome sarcococca, male of the species

I feel like I have unfinished business back in Brooklyn. I’m getting excited about volunteering at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, taking $10 yoga classes at Shambala, going to BAM more often, hearing some klezmer music, shopping at Sahadi. But most of all, having a city home again, furnished with city stuff. The orange Ligne Roset chairs, the steel and glass coffee table, the Nakashima-esque side table my son made, the inlaid 1950s Italian cabinet we bought in Tuscany and had shipped home, the 8-foot-long beige chenille sofa with cat-scratched arms. Maybe inanimate objects shouldn’t matter so much, but somehow they do. Even more than memories, I think, they’re about identity. It’s been hard sometimes, these past 18 months, to remember who I am in a new place, new house, surrounded by new (pre-owned, of course, but new to me) stuff.

November will not be boring. After settling into Brooklyn, I’m off to Maui for a week (yes, I know, too bad). I’ll be exploring the island with my daughter, who lives there. I’ve got our itinerary planned out. No modern resorts; we’ll be staying in vintage B&Bs. I’ll visit some botanic gardens and flower farms and historic houses and maybe even go to the beach. Then I’m heading down to Philly to cut a hole in a wall that should make one of the apartments in my Queen Village building much pleasanter and more livable. Thanksgiving will be upstate with lots of cousins.

It won’t be until December that I begin to figure out how this pied-a-terre thing really works.

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Photos by Debre DeMers

I Dig

I ALWAYS THOUGHT B&B stood for bed and breakfast. Now I know it means balled and burlapped.

Plants sold in plastic containers are a cinch to plant – you dig a hole and pop them in. Bigger trees and shrubs are B&B’d, like the two hefty mountain laurels I planted this afternoon. They’re heavy mothers.

Oh, my aching back.

Yesterday I went to Marder’s in Bridgehampton, an old-fashioned, full-service nursery where they really help you, to see what they had on sale. I was shopping on the principle that you should choose plants to suit your conditions, not frustrate yourself trying to grow what isn’t natural (and get 60% off if possible).

I went armed with a list of deer-resistant, shade-tolerant, acid-soil-loving shrubs to begin creating a ‘mixed hedge’ along the road (as opposed to the solid, all-one-kind, evergreen wall that is synonymous with the Hamptons). There’s an area about 20’x60′ along the road that is now cleared, thanks to my daughter Zoë, of most saplings and undergrowth (there’s still plenty of wisteria vine, pulled up out of the ground and coiled for later removal and ‘treatment’ — that is, poisoning [heh heh]

On my wish list was:

  • skimmia
  • clethera
  • kerria japonica
  • mountain laurel
  • mahonia
  • American holly

Not the most exciting stuff, but better to have un-showy flowers, I figure, than no flowers at all, because they don’t get enough sun or the deer have eaten them.

Marder’s was out of most things on my list, but I ended up buying eight plants:

  • 1 pee gee hydrangea
  • 2 osmanthus (purple false holly)
  • 3 sarcococca (sweet box)
  • 2 mountain laurels

They were delivered this afternoon. I had the delivery guy set the mountain laurels — only about 3 feet high but the root ball makes them monstrously heavy — near where I wanted to plant them. Once they were out there, right by the road, I realized I needed to plant them right away or risk their being stolen. (Call me paranoid, but this happened in Brooklyn once with two brand-new Alberta spruce; they lasted about 20 minutes on the front stoop.)

I had decided not to spring for planting services like last week, when I had a doublefile viburnum planted by the nursery and felt like a princess. Having watched the technique, I wanted to give it a try and save the bucks (planting often costs as much as the plant). It would have been easier with another person, but my daughter had gone off to the Yankee game.

Each of the two shrubs took an hour to plant: digging the hole with two different shovels; wrestling the plant into the hole, then out again and digging deeper, then in again; cutting the rope and burlap away and pulling it out from underneath; re-filling the hole with dirt (by now I was on my knees and using my gloved hands to push the dirt back in; I’d had it with the shovel); making a moat around it to hold water, much like building a sand castle at the beach, but muddier; and finally watering by hand.

I know I should have made the holes twice as wide as the plant (there’s that garden guilt again), but 1-1/2 times was the best I could manage.