Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Infinite Possibilities of Space

When we lived in Michigan, our plot of land was tiny. The house was a mere 1400 square feet, and the property line extended just four feet from one side of the house and 10 feet on the other. The front and back yards were so confined that I actually purchased a reel mower and could complete the entire job in 15 minutes. When it came to gardening, I had to consider space carefully. I squeezed things into the tightest spots and wished, like all gardeners do, that I had more space. That was my primary focus when we went house-hunting in Florida. 

The lot in Orlando was decidedly bigger, but it never felt big enough. I wanted apple trees but had to limit myself to espaliering them. I bought a fig tree and worried it would outgrow the space. I wanted other fruit trees but realized that if I gave in to my desires, we would have no yard at all. 

And now we're here on five acres. I've always known that five acres is a sizable piece of land, especially after living on property so small it had to be measured in square feet, but the understanding of how much space I now have just hit me this afternoon. I was a little awe-struck, if not a little giddy, too.

New residents on the farm

This bolt of comprehension struck when I walked up to the garden today to check on the recent additions I made this weekend. I now have two fig trees, two plum trees, and three blueberry bushes, all appropriately spaced from one another. I was admiring how nice they made the area look when my eyes wandered to the vast open space beyond this new grove. I no longer have to restrict myself based on space. The only concern that can dissuade me from adding something else is whether a particular fruit tree is susceptible to blight or requires chemical spraying for any real success. It's all very exciting, but it comes with great responsibility, too. I've lost one censor that kept me from going a little wild, so I must tread carefully.

The same is true for the rest of the property and flowers. I cast my eyes upon a space, and suddenly I see the turf removed and a massive flower bed in its place. I assure myself that Turfman won't oppose me since there would still be so much grass left for him to fret over. I really can hardly contain myself, so I must focus on areas that are already cultivated to keep from taking these flights of fancy.

Here are just a couple of spots that are coming on quite nicely. Hopefully they will keep you occupied you and keep me away from the nursery and out of trouble.

The front flower beds are filling in

Anxiously awaiting the arrival of sugar snap peas

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Decline that Promises Something New

October is my favorite month of the year. I've been inclined to think that good things come in October, largely because it's the month that saw the birth of my brother, one of my stepsons, and one of my nieces. It also has signaled a clear shift in seasons, a reprieve, no matter where I have lived. In Florida, where seasons bleed into one another, making it difficult to determine when one has ended and other has begun, October was the month when we could finally open the doors and welcome the fresh, cooler air of outdoors. It saw the harvesting of vegetables that I couldn't grow through the summer, such as peppers, tomatoes, and corn. In cooler climes, we looked forward to the colorful cloak that the trees put on in October, an incredible mix of red, orange, and yellow, before the leaves fell to the ground and made a crunch underfoot.

I love the grey sky days of fall, the bite of cooler air, the spices that I seem to smell in the kitchen, a reminder of celebrations to come. I love the middle of the semester, after mistakes have been made but before the final sentence has been passed and when the proverbial ship can still be righted. I love the promise of October.

We finally got rain this week--real rain. It wasn't the pathetic little showers that lasted for five or ten minutes in summer, that brought raindrops which merely smacked the hard Georgia clay, never penetrating the ground but always evaporating in the heat. The rain on Monday night and Tuesday lasted 12 hours or more. It was a heavy, consistent, nourishing rain. It made the pond look a little less desperate. I don't have any photos of the pond at its worst. I couldn't bring myself to chronicle its demise. I hope that saying it was no more than two inches deep will suffice. The new photos, however, are encouraging. The pond has expanded its margins by at least five feet on all sides, swallowing most of the opportunistic sedge grass that grew as the pond declined.

Before it looked like a mud pit. Now it looks like a flooded

But it's a pretty flooded area.

As the leaves fall, I run around the property with rake in hand, scooping up the leaves and filling bags and trash cans (with appropriate drain holes) to make leaf mould. I walked down the driveway today with the wheelbarrow and rake to collect a huge pile of fallen pine needles which provided the six inches of mulch I needed to cover the garlic I planted a few days ago.

Free mulch!

October may begin the season of decline, but it is already producing the promise of future growth.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Listening to the Garden

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring 
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
                                             --T. S. Eliot, "Four Quartets"

I sent my students outside today with their notebooks and pens. I too often find them checking their smart phones for texts or hear them coming into class, their music blaring from their earphones, announcing their arrival well before they pass through the doorway. So many of them seem on edge, desperate for any kind of distraction at every second. In response to my asking, "What would happen if you turned off your phone for 40 minutes?" some have replied that they would likely have 30 increasingly insistent text messages from their mothers demanding that they account for their whereabouts and lack of immediate response. It all seems like a life of not-so-quiet desperation. They miss things, even though they believe that their technology keeps them completely informed.

So I sent them outside. Their instructions were to find a place to sit and observe the details of their surroundings, to record what they experienced using a thesis that I supplied for them. The results were rather surprising. One student, upon returning to the classroom, said, "I didn't even know there were birds on campus." Several remarked on the very fine smell of freshly-cut grass. One of my favorite responses was from a student who heard the repetitive thwack of flip-flops smacking against the feet of a student hurrying into the building. Most agreed that they had discovered things they never noticed in their time on campus.

I've been terribly busy lately, the kind of busy that makes the days melt into one another until I can barely recall any part of my schedule, past or future. So when I came home today, I gave myself the same assignment. I went outside and sat in the vegetable garden. I didn't pull weeds or consider where the next planter bed should go. I just sat down. I heard the quiet hiss of the water flowing from the drip irrigation. I admired the widely varied leaf forms of radishes and carrots, of beets and peas and lettuce. I felt the hot, dusty, dry clay beneath my hands as I leaned against a planter bed. I heard the neighbor working in his barn, a shuffling noise in the distance. In short, I wasted time, and it was delicious.

The beet leaves are absolutely stunning

Peas, radishes, carrots, and beets, all growing together
in harmony

The first small fruits of our labor,
'French Breakfast' radishes

Link to My Podcast Debut

I was recently invited to take part in an episode of the gardening podcast "Back to My Garden." It was quite a flattering invitation, and I had a lovely time chatting with the creator and host, Dave Ledoux. You can find our conversation here: