Saturday, October 28, 2006

Oscar Wilde and the art of independent gardening

DD One
Now that we have snow, we are officially released to think about next years gardening. The data is in, the reports are out and the forecasts have been published. We’ve all read them - what’s in and what’s out for the 2007 garden season. Am I the only one who thinks some of this stuff is just a bit silly?

Trends that will be passé by next year, as reported by The Garden Media Group at the Garden Writers Association 2007 Symposium in Philadelphia in August, are: indoor living, everyday gardens, shabby chic gardens, chemical needy gardens, peek-a-boo accessories, flower-only gardens, time consuming gardens, basic plants, store bought veggies, colorless masses and daytime only gardens. Wow! Where do I begin?

Let’s see. I guess the trend setters don’t live anywhere too cold, and by the sound of it, don’t believe in shopping at the grocery store when it’s zero degrees outside. It’s a little hard to raise designer veggies at these temperatures, unless, of course, I’m the one who’s confused. As for chemical needy gardens, flowers only and time consuming concerns; I think they’re a little behind the times, don’t you? After all, that’s pretty much what good gardening is all about – time to enjoy your outdoor space without being its slave; healthy, chemical free flowers, fruits and veggies; and who has time to garden during the day anyway? And have colorless masses even been ‘in’?. Hmm.

What about the ‘in’ trends? Outdoor living is in. That’s novel. Escape gardens, streamlined gardens, eco-chic gardens, small space gardening, larger than life accents, foliage, multi-tasking gardens, fancy plants, designer veggies, masses of color, and 24 hour gardens. Great scott! They really haven’t been to Alaska, have they? 24 hour gardens are a way of life up here.

Escape garden, I suspect, is really a new name for what has long been called a secret garden or a private space - nothing too new here, although why they have to be re-named every few years to keep them in the forefront is beyond me. Streamlining is another way of saying formal, semi-formal and trim lines are returning to favor over the age-old cottage or ‘everyday’ garden mentioned on the ‘out’ list. Nothing wrong with wanting a little order I suppose, but I fail to see how it couples with the multi-tasking, time saving line of reason. Those lovely trim lines just don’t happen – there’s a lot of work behind them. Perhaps it’s meant to be balanced against those darn shabby chics on the ‘out list’.

Eco-chic says we should use environmentally friendly products and techniques. Again, I thought these things have always been at home in the garden. Maybe not. Some of us have always pushed great foliage and small space gardening has been the rage for a while, not to mention a practical necessity for much of the world. Designer vegetables are fun and lovely, but I’m not ready to throw the cabbage out with the compost water just yet. I’d like to see a nice borsch made from designer greens. That leaves us with fancy plants and larger than life accents. Now we’re talking. What fun!

I have this vision of a lovely, though somewhat streamlined, small space garden dominated by a 7 foot, human shaped urn; designer vegetables, outrageous foliage and bazaaro plants flowing from its head. Actually, I rather like it.

I guess I don’t see the big deal with all this – apparently I’m not interested in someone else’s idea of a great garden. May be it’s because I lived so long here in the land of independent thinkers. Here, where I’m proud to grow the old-favorites along side the new because they are such good friends. Here where fashion seems to touch us so lightly. Here where the trend setters live thousands of miles away. By the time a ‘hot’ trend floats our way, it has often moved on or circled back to something we still like that we were supposed to have stopped liking several years ago.

Garden on, I say. Let’s be proud of our diversity and flaunt it. Plant what makes you happy and makes good soup. Embrace garden art that makes your heart jump. Love those bleeding hearts! Fling refined, good taste to the wind. Oscar Wilde reminded us, ”Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry…” Thank you, irreverent Sir! Pray, let this not happen to us.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Garden Dogs

DD One
No matter how much we know about the habits of our animals, I believe the gardening lives of our dogs will always be a world that is secret to us.

Every time I see some strange phenomena in the garden - a plant I’ve never seen before, a rock placed in an interesting spot beside the pond, a diminutive path through the alders - perhaps just tall enough for a wee elf – I take pause. No harm done, just odd goings on. Are there ‘little people’ in the garden? Well yes, there are; in fact I make a habit of feeding them. They have fur, paws and noses that follow everywhere. And, in reality, they’re not all that small.

I’ve always kept the company of dogs and consider them to be quite irreplaceable. They provide unconditional love, companionship, a ready source of entertainment, a reason to take exercise and an unsurpassed sounding board for a bewildered designer. They are also very good gardeners!

Our oldest dog, Rosemary, is the self-proclaimed pond gardener of the family. She and her late brother, Basil, took that job away from me six years ago. The first thing she does in the morning, after creeping out from under the bed, is head to the pond. It’s her last destination before crawling back into her den at night. She drinks from the pond, plays in it, sits by it, watches critters swim in it, and just generally co-exists with it. It’s her favorite garden spot. She goes there in the winter and even though it’s frozen, icy and covered with snow, she paws, digs and ‘drinks’. She’s there every day as it thaws in the spring, encouraging its breakup, drinking scummy thaw-water and wading into its icy depth. It is Rosemary that keeps the vegetation at bay along the edges. It’s Rosemary who propagates the water plants as she pulls on them, distributing little bits here and there to grow anew. It’s Rosemary who moves the rocks and gravel along the bottom into positions more suitable for footing. She and Basil were the architects that created their own special drinking hole and molded the sloping walk-in approach that we all enjoy.

Basil was a trim one hundred and fifteen pounds, and Rosie is just under one hundred. Their superior weight and wonderfully large paws did things in the depths that I could never have accomplished – smoothing the bottom, rearranging the flora, working the leaf compost and insect environment – gently keeping the pond alive. Ever vigil, the furry ones quietly gardened while I was occupied elsewhere.

We now have a new gardener, steadily learning under Rosie’s tutelage. His name is Chervil and he is a vigorous addition to our staff! Although his talents are yet undeveloped, it looks like he’ll be more of a terrestrial gardener; a keeper of the trees and paths. Eighty pounds of puppy thundering down the walkways has a very stabilizing effect on the stones. His interest in tasting the shrubs has already provided some unexpected propagation and creative pruning, and his love for fruit should provide seedlings galore next spring. I look forward, with interest, to the changes in the garden as he learns his craft. While I have great hopes of lending some measure of control to his horticultural education, I harbor no false expectations. Perhaps a nudge here and there as to what actually needs pruning, as I remind myself that surprises are fun and change is good!

A wee nibble here and a new shrub shape evolves; a visit to the pond – some overdue separation of your water plants, but wait! There’s more! Dogs are the happiest, most non-kvetching soil mixers on earth! Training dogs to dig only in a soil-pile is quite simple and, in fact, is a useful outlet for their digging instincts. Mound your dirt, compost and amendments in a pile and repeat the command ‘mix’ as they plunge vigorously onto the mound - soil flying. (It would be a good idea to step back and shut your eyes about now). The tiniest bit of raking will re-gather your soil and provide you a mixture that will be the envy of your fellow gardeners. Even if you don’t have a garden, providing a pile of dirt with a bit of judicious training will save your lawn - and you’ll make Rover very happy!

For more photos of dogs at work in the garden click the Garden Dogs link to the right.