Relax in the garden? Who has time for that?

February 26th, 2007
Gardening is Work–Hard Work

I just came in to take a break from my gardening break. My indoor breaks usually involve a little surfing and over at Garden Rant a couple of entries lately have lamented the news that some Americans don’t garden because it’s work. Eeew! And dirty.

The 2 cents from some commenters is that gardens don’t have to be hard work. I don’t know what paradise they garden in but, honey, in Austin, Texas gardening is hard work. Hard, back-breaking work.

The twinge in my lower back today comes from turning the compost pile and moving half a dozen wheelbarrow loads of compost into the winter rose bed. I still haven’t finished last week’s project of putting Dillo Dirt around my large bushes and small trees even though AJM made it easier for me by helping me move a 22-liter bag next to each of the plants I wanted to fertilize. I thought that would take a day….so that chore is in overtime.

Let’s not forget th. 32 bags of Christmas tree mulch that I hauled from Zilker Park and spread over all my paths. And the still-to-be-blogged-about-when-it’s-finished front path project which involved me moving 3 tons of gravel a bit at a time because trying to put it in a wheelbarrow resulted in the wheelbarrow being too heavy to move. That damn project required all the levelling of the paths beforehand and laying down horticultural cloth so that the paths retained their shape and bindweed didn’t sprout through.

Speaking of chores I hate: pulling up bindweed and poison ivy and cutting back smilax and nandina; chopping out hackberry and chinaberry sproutlings.

Digging holes for new plants is also always a day-long struggle involving prizing out rocks and cutting out tree roots.

Then there’s just the normal boring stuff…not hard work but tedious, mindless stuff. I’m still cleaning up red oak leaves from all the beds and paths, hacking back English ivy, cutting back perennials, trying to get the trees pruned before they break dormancy, and watering. And then there’s always weeding.

All those chores take a back seat to the stuff I enjoy doing: transplanting seedlings and dividing bulbs and playing in the dirt. Fear of Soil? I’m not stricken with that phobia. I love gardening precisely because I like having my hands in the dirt. I never wear gloves. I get a thrill in squashing grubs with my bare hands. I love the feel and smell of rich, moist earth. Any veggies or flowers that result from my messing around in the dirt are a bonus. That’s why my garden is not a hot tour spot. It’s more for feeling than for looking at. You have to get down on your knees to appreciate it properly.

Do I ever just sit in the garden? enjoy a cup of tea? read a book? Nope. We bought a hammock years ago and an Adirondack chair. But I can’t sit down a second without seeing something that needs to be done.

I enjoy being in the garden, but relaxing it ain’t.

photo: Zanthan Gardens
2007-02-22. I cleared all the English ivy off the path in the back south border and remulched it. Now it looks more like a border again. The English bluebells are about six inches tall and should bloom soon.

February 25th, 2007
Week 08: 2/19 – 2/25

Dateline: 2007
This is the first week of 2007 that temperatures hit the 80s. Wednesday (2/21) the high was 82F and Thursday (2/22) it was 83. Compare that to a week ago Friday (2/16) when we woke up to the coldest morning of winter and all the plants frozen solid.

A few daffodils are struggling to bloom. When it’s very hot and dry, they tend to blast; that is, the outer papery sheath turns brown and the flower inside can’t break through. I want to ask you northern gardeners, what are the temperatures like when daffodils bloom for you? These balmy days are great for gardening outside (at least out of direct sunlight) but the cool weather flowers like the sweet peas seem unhappy.

I cut back perennials (salvia and lantana) and cleaned and mulched beds. I haven’t started hacking out the weed tree seedlings or finished transplanting the roses and duranta I meant to do earlier. The lettuce came back quickly after last week’s freeze and I’ve been eating more salads.

First flower: Leucojum aestivum (2/22), Tradescantia (2/23), Commelinantia anomala (2/23).

Still blooming: Viola, Narcissus ‘Grand Primo‘ Mexican plum, rosemary, a single larkspur, Mahonia bealei, oxalis. The early spring weeds (henbit, goose grass, and chickweed) are everywhere at once.

I still haven’t seen a single redbud in bloom anywhere in Austin. Have you?
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Dramm Revolver

February 24th, 2007
Dramm Revolver

One of the garden chores I hate is watering. I hate having to use up a precious resource (our local lake reservoirs are currently at half their capacity) and I hate the time it takes. I have a drip system in the vegetable garden but everything else I water by hand with either the hose or a watering can.

Around Christmas I dropped by The Great Outdoors and bought myself a little present, the Dramm Revolver. I had used one when volunteering at the Green Classroom and fell in love with it.

The nozzle revolves to spray water nine different ways. The mist setting produces a cloud of mist fine enough to water seedlings. The sprinkle setting is like the fine head on my watering can. Then there are various harder sprays of different shapes, cone, center, flat, angle which make it possible to water in beds of different shapes. There is also a hard jet spray for washing out the bird bath and cleaning off rocks and a bubbly soaker to leave on the ground next to tree or large bush while I’m doing other chores.

This week temperatures soared into the 80s and I decided to use my new toy. I had so much fun. I was delighted with two other features. First, I can shut the water off at the nozzle end instead of running back to turn it off at the faucet. That makes it so much easier to stop and move the hose around without wasting water or soaking myself. I feel that I must be dealing with the some monstrous descendent of the same hose Karel Capek describes in The Gardener’s Year.

“One would think that watering a little garden is quite a simple thing, especially if one has a hose. It will soon be clear that until it has been tamed a hose is an extraordinarily evasive and dangerous beast, for it contorts itself, it jumps, it wriggles, it makes puddles of water, and dives with delight into the mess it has made; then it goes for the man who is going to use it and coils itself round his legs…”

Second, the Dramm Revolver has a little widget that flips to keep nozzle open (like at a gas pump) so that my hand doesn’t get tired squeezing the lever. It’s solid and sturdy. This was $10 very well spent.

Science is infused with poetry.

February 16th, 2007
Two Modes of Experience

I was reading Monty Don’s My Roots: A Decade in the Garden last night and I came across a couple of passages that irked me.

“This is why I have little time for gardens that are merely a collection of plants…A culture of technique–almost always male-dominated–where the garden almost became a laboratory superseded the true spirit of gardens which is feminine, intuitive and full of guile. Gardening is no more a science than cooking is.” — p. 105

As someone who loves science both in the garden and in the kitchen, I’m impatient with these gender stereotypes. I do believe that there are two types of people but the division here is not between men and women but between those whose hearts rule their heads (F-types) and whose heads rule their hearts (T-types). Monty Don is obviously an F-type, even though he is male and I’m decidedly a T-type.

A couple of pages later, Monty Don traces his aversion to science to his childhood walks.

“I never really really articulated it, but I think I thought that studying [flowers] would break the magic and reduce this intense, private world to the foolishness of rational intelligence. It was the difference between watching the butterfly bob and float until it disappeared and scrutinizing the same specimen pinned to a block” — p. 108

If that’s how he wants to see the world, fine. But I resent the dig against the “foolishness” of rational intelligence. The underlying message is “Let’s all revel in ignorance.” The hippies said it in the 1960s and forty years later the religious fundamentalists have picked up the cry. And he continues.

“…I am still wary of those who categorize and measure with botanical fervour…The poetry slips through these cracks, and without poetry gardens and plants are reduced to something between a specimen and another chore to measure the day. The light does not get in.”

I find it difficult to comprehend how anyone could be blind to the poetry in science. Science teaches us how to observe, how to really look at the world, to distinguish the differences between one butterfly an another, to wonder at the living processes within each organism and delve into interrelationships among them. Whether taking a micro or a macro view, science forces us to see the world with new eyes. F-types don’t have a monopoly on poetry. Science is infused with poetry. I think my experience of the world is all the richer for trying to understand it.

I might as well say to an F-type, “Stop cluttering the joy of pure thought with sensual distractions.” I wouldn’t, though, because I know that people experience the world in different ways. That’s part of the wonder of the range of human experience. One mode is not superior to the other. Remember, it takes the separate vantage points of two different eyes to experience the world in three dimensions.