Saturday, February 11, 2012

Paul Mathers on Tending

I was surprisingly encouraged to find so many people in the gardening store today.  There is a local hardware store in sight from our front porch and, the other day, their windows were painted with large letters reading "It's Time To Plant."  Which, upon noticing its appearance, I thought, "By golly, so it is."

It's been a splendidly mild winter in our area.  I've been tanning a great deal so far this February.  I fear that often portends a remarkably cruel summer, specifically the likelihood of massive wildfires.  However, I feel fairly certain in assuming that there shan't be another frost this year.

Upon first glance, one might think the picture above a horrible admission of the state of a portion of my backyard.  It is an area of our yard which was, at one point, the place where I drug a huge limb that fell from one of our trees during a dry spell.  It then sort of became the catch-all for yard waste that was waiting for room in the trash bin.  Little by little I would hack away at branches and use them to fill the trash container at the end of the trash week.  Nature always finds a way and grass strangled down the odd stray branch until we had a spot where our Fraggles would go for advice.

I admit this for two reasons.  First of all, though this be madness, yet there is method in't.  I knew as I saw a small wild patch creeping in that the leaves from the branches and the moisture enclosing grass shell would create soil rich beyond our wildest dreams.  Second, as of writing this, I have almost cleared the area.  The soil, indeed, is extremely rich.  It is nearly ready for us to plant.

Off we went to the gardening center.  We plan on making a raised bed next year.  This year Laurie wisely, I think, suggested that we reign in our plans to what is practically do-able in the next week or two, lest we end up doing nothing (Laurie understands my Ent-like tendency to take on projects that will take me a decade or so to complete.  I do, usually, complete them, but it does indicate the handicap of a hopelessly archaic internal clock.)

I do not recall a time in my life without a garden and should not like to ever have such a period.  During the "apartment years," it was more often than not confined to small boxes on the windowsill.  A garden is a hopeful act.  The cultivation of flora speaks of one's belief in quiet, peaceful, seemingly inconsequential acts of good can overcome the world's flood of evil in tiny increments, like throwing so many pebbles in a lake.  It is the fulfillment of what, in the Judeo-Christian worldview, is the actual "world's oldest profession."

I have a strong inclination towards adjusting my vision to only notice the shadows in life.  I rage against the pessimism that is my birthright.  Withnail is the narrator of my internal monologue.  Gardening is one of the most efficacious therapies for my manifold neuroses that I have ever undertaken.

A garden is a thing of great beauty, producing beauty, life, and that which can sustain life and beauty.  It is also a fragile thing.  Existence and a universe ruled by entropy constantly try to get their hands around its throat.  In our own little corner, I consider the usual elements of harsh summers and insects when planning a garden.  I also take into account our yard unfenced in our perennially impecunious state: the rogue dogs that wander our streets, the racoons, the fact that on my block it's a fairly safe bet that there is methamphetamine somewhere within a stone's throw of my home at any given time and that indigents are more than likely to walk off with anything of value left outside.  We have had our tires slashed for no good reason at all and the "territorial peeing" variety of graffiti appears on walls and fences with alarming regularity. 

There is a faction within the nascent Occupy movement which has taken to guerrilla gardening.  The idea, if I understand it correctly, is to reclaim some of the common, public spaces as a force for good (similar to some of the higher philosophy behind the more elevated manifestations of "Street Art," but, perhaps, with more arguably productive results.)  They simply go to parks and set up gardens with signs that the produce thereof belongs to the people, including harvesting instructions.  I find small actions like this to be moments where I have hope for the future of humankind.  Rare, fleeting hope.

When we moved into the house, Laurie had planned to have "an old lady garden" which, to some extent, we acheived around the perimeter of the house proper with geraniums and hydrangeas.  Today, we bought tarragon seeds, beets, lettuce, and cilantro.  We have canary melon seeds and pepper seeds which we've saved.  I have a fuchsia plant that I have nursed through the winter.  My grandmother had a huge fuchsia bush next to her home (still does actually) and I have always wanted to have fuchsia in my home.  We have a grapevine which grows grapes until they are just about ready for human consumption at which point the blue jays come and eat them.  We have jasmine and lavender and some bulbs by our fence that came with the house (pink naked ladies and paperwhites I think.)  This year I am insisting on rose bushes.  There should always be roses.

A phrase which I say often in conversation is: "The world can be whatever we choose to make it... and THIS is what we've made it?!!?"

All of which is why I think when my life is over, one of the nouns I would like to have connected to what I did with my time on Earth would be "Gardener."


  1. Good luck! We'll have to have you guys come over when our roses are in bloom.

  2. 'Gardens were before Gardeners, and but some hours after the earth'. -Sir T.B. 'The Garden of Cyrus'.