Thursday, September 1, 2011

Room to Roam

or The Poetry of Sedums

I was admiring a container of dragon's blood sedum (Sedum spurium) the other day over a cup of coffee, when it set me to thinking about limericks.  Actually, it set me thinking about growing things in pots v. in the ground, which brought me to the occasional usefulness of limitations, which led tangentially to a recent New York Times article on decision fatigue, and then to the ways typical art forms can prevent creative "option paralysis," and then onward to painted still lifes and from there to Mozart's operas to sonnets to limericks, which sounded like fun, and so here we are.  (Coffee:  yes.)

In a way a limerick is an incredibly constrained little poem.  It has a teeny-tiny, hedged-about form, with its five lines and two rhyme schemes and rollicking, anapestic rhythms.  That can be a pain (or half the fun), as you're constantly bumping against the need for a particular pattern of accents.  On the other hand, once you've chosen to write a limerick, you've freed yourself from all sorts of other choices.  You know how long the lines will be, you know the general tone.  Meanwhile, you still have creative room to roam inside those parameters.  Like squeezing a water balloon on one end, the pressure from the limerick's rhythms and rhymes just forces your creativity to pop up somewhere else.* 

I laughed at these two limericks for all kinds of reasons today:

     There was a small boy of Quebec
     Who was buried in snow to his neck.
     When they said, "Are you friz?"
     He replied, "Yes, I is—
     But we don't call this cold in Quebec."
                                   —Rudyard Kipling

     T. S. Eliot is quite at a loss
     When clubwomen bustle across
     At literary teas
     Crying, “What, if you please,
     Did you mean by The Mill On the Floss?”
                                 —W. H. Auden

They say such completely different things in such different styles.  The limerick's constraints don't prevent individual voices from popping up through them.

In an odd way they remind me of a friend who moved to New York City.  When he first arrived he had a serious case of option paralysis.  With such a vast array of choices in restaurants, for example—Ethiopian, Lithuanian, Chinese, Thai, Korean, Japanese, Brazilian, Cuban, Tex-Mex, diner—all within walking distance, he found himself choosing the path of least resistance:  to stay home.  Artificially narrowing his options to restaurants within one block on the right-hand side of the street freed him to make choices, and from there he was off and running.

All to say, the sedum is doing unexpectedly well in its little pot.  It's growing much, much better than it did in the ground, when its roots had all the room they wanted.  Then, the most you could say about it was that it wasn't dead.  Now it's a happy little thing with all kinds of new growth and good color.  The improvement could possibly owe a little something to the daily water and good soil all the container plants get (ahem).  But the impression it gives—at least for the purposes of this post—is that now that its roots are constrained the growth is popping up someplace else, that instead of forging root systems underground,  the life in the sedum is fountaining up over the top of the pot.  Before, it had option paralysis.  "Roots or leaves? Roots or leaves?"  Now it doesn't—it has limited choices, and that energy has to go someplace. 

It just needs some room to roam.

* What other art form would have me hunting for words that rhyme with Albuquerque?  So far the most promising are murky, perky, quirky, and tofurkey.  The next step—and this will take some creativity—is to come up with a rational way to put them together.


  1. Hmm, my option paralysis is usually roots or flowers? Do I cut the flowers off when I plant and for the most I do, but not so much this year. Planted some sedum a few weeks ago in the ground, but yours looks fabulous in the pot.

  2. There was a young lass from Albuquerque
    Whose blog was tremendously quirky
    "Explain how you achieve it?"
    "Well, you'll never believe it
    It's cos I eat sedum and turkey." Boom boom.

    Sorry - off to work and in a rush. Needs work ...


  3. haha - I would have never thought of tofurkey!!! I find children especially get option paralysis - best to give two options and people (not only children!) can decide much easier. But, then, your sedum only had two options - roots or leaves - so that blows my theory completely!

  4. Does that mean Albuquerque has a reputation for being quirky?

  5. Intersesting way to relieve option paralysis. David kinda hit the nail on the head until the last line!

  6. GirlSprout, roots or flowers is a tricky one. There's the path of wisdom, and then there's instant gratification... Some years, the gratification does actually count for a lot. Hope your sedum is coming along well--I don't think I watered mine enough when it was planted in the ground.

    Dave, a fine limerick indeed, especially since you just dashed it off like that before work. (You probably do that every morning.) Educational, too--I had no idea sedum was edible. Apparently (according to one source) S. spurium is particularly "easy on the tummy" though "an acquired taste."

    Holley, my sister-in-law once served us tofurkey (she's actually quite a lovely person). It wasn't an experience I'll soon forget... Giving two options is so wise of you! Open-ended choices never seem to get made. For all we know the sedum may have had other options, too, but it's so hard to tell what they're really thinking.

    Diana, from what I gather from long-time residents, Albuquerque isn't as quirky as it used to be maybe 20 years ago, but a fairly popular bumper sticker reads, "Keep it Querque."

    Donna, that last line has actually given me dangerous new ideas for side dishes with Thanksgiving dinner...

  7. They really do look even more beautiful up close. The edging color really stands out and complements the form...lovely!

  8. Stacy, I love this post; it highlights that wonderful ability you have to jump from one thing to another and then somehow pull them all together in a way that is both thoughtful and useful. Recently, I published a post that mentioned in passing a Coreopsis rosea in my garden that had practically disappeared. Another blogger left a comment that she had the same experience until she moved the plant to a container where it has thrived. This post gave me another way of thinking about container gardening options. Thanks. -Jean

  9. Michelle, I love watching the color change, too--the red ebbs and flows with the seasons.

    Jean, thank you. I do think that containers are great ways either to find or to create the best conditions for a plant. Sometimes if I'm not sure how much sun a plant can take I'll try it in a container first and move it to different locations to test them out.