July 12 2020
“The earth has music for those who listen”-George Santayana
It’s very quiet, that music, you can’t hear it if you are noisy or have noise around you. Sometimes it’s not audible at all. Maybe it’s the smell of the earth after a spring rain (petrichor), maybe it’s the feeling you get while walking through a forest (Japanese-shin-rin yoku), or maybe it’s the sound of the wind in the trees (psithurism-Greek for whispering), but the earth is talking.
I think this is what passionate gardeners are trying to bring to their little corner of the world, earth music. Because the best thing about this music is that it quiets the noise of the world that is too much with us sometimes. It’s possible to get lost in even the smallest of gardens.
There is a small garden in St. Petersburg, Florida, called the Sunken Garden. It is a 100 year old oasis in the city with over 50,000 tropical plants from around the world. The plants are astounding and the flamingos fun, but one thing that I remember clearly is a rounded stone they called The Growing Stone. A plaque said “He who sits upon the ancient stone shall be granted tranquility, inner harmony and the ability to make things grow.” Now, I’m not sure any of those things will miraculously happen, but what I do know is that if you sit on the stone and contemplate those thoughts, you may start to hear the music. Even in the middle of a huge city.
The first plant that comes to mind when I think of the music of the earth is aspen trees. Psithurism is at work-when I walk through a grove of aspens I can hear them whisper, the leaves trembling in the slightest breeze. Aspen leaves tremble so easily because the leaf stems are flat unlike the round stems of most tree leaves. Celtic mythology held that the trees are communicating between this world and the next. You can take whatever message you want from the whispering aspens, but whispering they are.
On a fall drive through the mountains, the shimmering gold leaves are incredibly beautiful and you will notice that they grow in large groves. Aspens spread by underground runners and each of those clumps is actually one large spreading organism, each tree a clone of the next. In fact, the largest organism in the world is reputed to be a grove of aspens in Utah called Pando (Latin for ‘I spread’). It covers 106 acres and is estimated to weigh 6,000 metric tons. It is many thousands of years old, the individual trees live around 100 years, but new ones sprout from the spreading roots and they are all connected underground.
I recently bought a new aspen called Forest Silver ‘Driefest’ whose leaves turn orange to red in the fall and planted it where it can spread. Interestingly, the new little aspens that come from the spreading roots will not be Forest Silver aspens, because the tree is grafted. What I know for sure, though, is that the aspens are singing and I’m listening.
Aspen ‘populus tremuloides’, zone 2