May 25, 2004

The peony conversation.

The trees in my neighborhood darken all the yards and lead good gardeners to indulge heavily in ferns and other groundcover instead of flowers and vegetables and grass. What might, without the trees, have been lawn looks like this:

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Once a new homebuyer sent her gardener over to my door to ask me to let her come into my yard and cut some branches off one of my backyard trees so she could plant a "sun garden." I was understanding up to a point, but then I said "these are wooded lots" (here in this neighborhood she had chosen instead of the sunny, treeless suburbs) so maybe she should plant a garden that does well in the shade. The gardener got quite snippy and started lecturing me about the law and asserting that she had a legal right to cut back the trees in her yard. One of the benefits of being a lawyer is that when someone decides to lecture you about law, it doesn't take you any time at all to decide that person is an ass. I didn't say, "You're lecturing me about law? I'm a law professor!" I just said, "You want to assert your legal rights. Fine. So do I. You can't cut any branches off my tree." I love the way she was so wrapped up in getting what she wanted and using any argument that she reminded me to stick to my own preferences and not do her any favors. And: great way to make a good impression as a new neighbor.

But that was an anomaly. Most homeowners here in University Heights work within the beautiful shadiness. A neighbor two houses down has this neatly kept arrangment with stone rabbit:

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And my next-door neighbor has a yard full of shade-loving flowers, with the peonies beginning their days of glory. As I take this picture, the neighbor's mother comes out and talks to me and as we talk about peonies she almost remembers some lines about peonies by Keats and--elsewhere--Danny Kaye:

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I say I'm going to put some of these pictures on my website, and I'll find those peony quotes and put them up as well, and I give her my blog address. The Keats poem is Ode on Melancholy:
But when the melancholy fit shall fall
Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud,
That fosters the droop-headed flowers all,
And hides the green hill in an April shroud;
Then glut thy sorrow on a morning rose,
Or on the rainbow of the salt sand-wave,
Or on the wealth of globed peonies;
Or if thy mistress some rich anger shows,
Imprison her soft hand, and let her rave,
And feed deep, deep upon her peerless eyes.

And the Danny Kaye lines? Here you see one of his songs was "The Peony Bush." But I can't find the lyrics, so you'll have to buy the album, which seems to be a nice big collection of comic songs.

Anyway, I arrive at my own yard and see my overgrown oleaster hedge in bloom with its teeny-tiny, very un-peony-like flowers:

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9 comments:

Anonymous said...

for a second I thought you were posting pictures of your pot plants.

It's OK they were still nice pictures though.

Anonymous said...

Ann, I think there should be a reality show based on your life and blog. How funny that a gardener wants to lecture you about the law? This is good stuff. Perfect for television.

Anonymous said...

They'd have to film a lot to get any good scenes. Or have many scenes of me sitting at my computer! I like that the blog makes my life seem eventful. I notice that I appreciate very small events, like talking to my neighbor's mother about peonies, and remember them, because I'm writing about them here. So I like that about blogging too. There's something about carrying the digital camera around too that makes me notice little things about life and particularly Madison and I am really enjoying that.

Anonymous said...

I think the digital pics of Madison are fantastic. The reality show would be great: By day you are sitting at your computer, teaching, chatting with colleagues about blogging, proctoring exams while blogging, blogging during staff meetings. In the evenings you are making Bolognese sauce and getting lectured on the law by gardeners. "The gardener got quite snippy..." Jeremy Freese is the Kramerish neighbor in the RV.

On the other hand, I think there was a sitcom like this a few years ago.

Ann Althouse said...

Sorry I put up the other post anonymously. Blogger makes it easy to do that. It was pretty easy to tell it was me...

starbird said...

I found this on another Web site:

The Peony Bush
(Meredith Willson - as recorded by Danny Kaye)

'Twas the peony bush there in my garden
That made you turn around and smile at me.
Not the zinnias or gardenias with their fragrant perfume,
Forget-me-nots in fancy pots or orchids in-a bloom;
But the peony bush there in my garden
It did the trick as quick as one-two-three.
Please decorate my garden gate forever
And never will there be any bush.
But the peony bush for me.

Every rose, every tree, every bird and bee
Seem to rate a rondolet or two.
So a slight poetic push for my favorite bush
Would seem to be long overdue.

'Twas the peony bush there in my garden
That made you turn around and smile at me.
Not the zinnias or gardenias with their fragrant perfume,
Forget-me-nots in fancy pots or orchids in-a bloom;
But the peony bush there in my garden
It did the trick as quick as one-two-three.
Please decorate my garden gate forever
And never will there be any bush,
But the peony bush for me.

transcribed by ear from Danny Kaye - Cocktail Hour

Meade said...

"In 1957, the Indiana General Assembly passed a law to make the peony the state flower of Indiana, a title which it holds to this day. It replaced the zinnia, which had been the state flower since 1931."

Ann Althouse said...

Ah, how sweet! Indiana, the nicest place.

And how sweet to meet you here in this old post where we can be alone.... where I can show some rich anger, and you can imprison my soft hand, and let me rave.

Meade said...

I shall decorate your garden gate forever. (Soon as I come to Madison.)