Gardens possess an elixir that tinkers with my sense of time. I’ll ponder the rapidity of growth, the colors and perfumes, the variety of life out here and the science behind it all, and forty minutes will vanish in an instant.
Canna lilies, for example, begin as dirt-y bumps. These tropical plants often grow two inches every sun-drenched day in here, to eight or nine feet high! Whenever I want to see something marvelous emerge impossibly fast from practically nothing, I’ll trot over to my cannas and stare.
The despised, gorgeous Japanese beetles add a dash of delicacy as they voraciously chew those giant leaf tips to lace. What is it about cannas that they love?
A drab-looking hummingbird moth hovers nearby. The heavy insect is easily as large as its namesake. Absurdly insubstantial wings hum: the creature hangs suspended in front of the big kitchen window as if inspecting its reflection…Imagine the huge amounts of energy needed to accomplish this feat! How long can it hover before refueling is necessary?
A honeybee staggers around inside a huge hibiscus flower, its black and gold body completely blanketed in sticky white pollen. Even its eyes are coated. Yet it flies, undaunted. Just a skim of ice on a airplane’s wings changes the aerodynamics. Add an inch more, and it falls out of the sky. How has the bee’s aerodynamic design canceled this danger?
Hundreds of unblinking black-eyed Susans — most minus their orange ‘lashes’ – dot the lush landscape. Each seed-packed orb demonstrates design perfection. There are no square, rectangular or sausage-shaped Susans. (Why is everything in our universe round?)
My four massive sweet autumn Clematis vines are in spectacular bloom, blanketing fences, huge steel spider webs, gates and evergreens... They’ve grown fifty feet from little sticks in just three months! Millions of white starflowers bob with every tiny breeze: their perfume fills the garden. Their nectar intoxicates frenzied bees.
Clematis isn’t bothered by mildew, mold, or beetles. Why? It’s chemistry. They’ve figured it out, somehow, over the centuries.
The ‘bling’ of the garden bell roused me from my reverie.
A dad and his teen son entered; the boy propped his glasses up on his nose as the two looked around. We began sharing thoughts, and favorite musings. Both loved science, so I shared some thoughts about organisms that prefer certain plants.
His son glanced at me, glassed eyes gleaming with mischief. “Hey, Dad, here’s an experiment: microscopic life on a clothed human is the most varied and prolific on pants zippers and waistbands. To prove it I’d swab your laundered pants--the zipper, button, and the area around both-- for contaminants. There’d likely be nothing. Then I’d test that area again before you tossed your pants in the wash. Remember, we zip up first, then wash our hands after using the toilet. There’d be residue there, from alien doorknobs, your flowerbeds, food, dirty dishes, grocery carts...
The result – quite a microscopic population, compared with other clothing areas – should prove my theory!”
We gasped, then howled with laughter. Todd grinned. He’d been joking, but I thought he might pursue this germ of an idea sometime, just for fun.
“Seriously, what really interests me are the rapid multiplication of bacteria and viruses, and the chemistry behind their mutations…Why do bugs attack only certain plants, for instance?”
His father smiled. “Yeah, you might have fifty years- a tick of time- to delve into things. So you gotta specialize. That’ll be a challenging part of the next few years. Choosing what to concentrate on.” Todd stared ahead for a moment, overwhelmed.
Then he propped up his glasses and turned to me, his face lighting up. “MIT’s accepted me. I want to explore biological engineering, and maybe aeronautics —”
A hummingbird, then a huge bumblebee, whirred by… "Dad, how can they do that? Doesn’t the math say it’s impossible for those bees to fly with that equipment?”
Ah, a man after my own heart!