Monday, July 29, 2013

The un-garden

For a laundry list of reasons starting last year, I knew that this summer would find us behind on projects and losing ground. So I decided to not do a vegetable garden, for the first time in 15 years.

It isn’t total withdrawal: I popped some carrot and lettuce seeds into the planters nearest to the house, and filled the rest of them with bright annual flowers. Then cover-cropped the veggie beds with buckwheat to avoid raising a fine crop of quack grass and milkweed. (Also to attract our scarily shrinking population of bees.)

This, in addition to the loss of my mother’s help (see “R.I.P. Garden Elf,” September 1, 2012), has meant a yard and garden scruffier than at any time during our residence. Since spring we’ve mowed only three times and I’ve trimmed only once.

Such neglect has created an interesting new environment . . . proving the adage “Nature abhors a vacuum.” Anywhere a spot was bare or unattended, plants moved in, creating a natural garden of delight.

Borders normally groomed have exploded in daisies and black-eyed Susans, asters (still to bloom), and campanula; plus the more weedy species such as lamb’s quarters, amaranth, pigweed, dandelions, thistle, yarrow, Queen Anne’s lace, and all varieties of clover. Not to mention every form of grass.

Wildflowers not seen in the yard before have grabbed corners and crevices between rocks: various mints, joe pye weed, and the indomitable burdock. Dropped bird seed from winter feeders has sprouted into mixed varieties of sunflower, over here and over there.

In areas where trees were harvested last fall, ferns and jewelweed have run rampant, as have the bee balm and phlox, overrunning the borders of abandoned perennial beds and popping up in areas far across the yard. I can no longer get to my compost pile, as it has been consumed by flowers.

My favorite surprises are the daisies and black-eyed Susans that took over the walk and terrace. For almost a month, we had to hitch up our legs and climb over them in order to get in the front door—I couldn’t bear to cut them back until after they bloomed. I also love the single, sentinel sunflowers that have appeared in the middle of the lawn, thumbing their petals at the cultivated ones struggling on the edge of the garden. Nothing I planted (galliardias, nasturtiums, marigolds, zinnias, morning glories) has done half as well as wild things that grabbed a molecule of dirt and grit between cracks or in disturbed soil.

This unconstrained growth proves something I talked about five years ago in my book Open Your Heart with Gardens. You don’t have to actively create and tend a garden in order to enjoy one; nature will take care of that herself. So even though I’m not actively cultivating this year, the yard is full of color and beauty and food in spite of me. Many of these wildflowers are edible, and of course there’s the berry patch. It, too, is going insane this season, overgrowing the firewood stacks despite pre-season cutbacks. In the past three weeks, we’ve harvested no less than 20 pounds of perfect, thumb-size red raspberries!

It is restful to step outside and just enjoy the bloom for a change, instead of having to haul watering cans and hoses and fertilizer, patrol for pests, set up and take down protection. I’m almost tempted to make a habit of it, though I’m sure by next spring I’ll be back to drawing plans and buying transplants and seeds.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The gullywhumper

One of my favorite words is "gullywhumper."Apparently this is a regionalism or idiom or slang, since I can't find it in any standard dictionary. Not sure where I heard it in the first place, but it means a storm that dumps a huge amount of rain.

We had one of those yesterday afternoon.

All summer long, we've had daily showers or thundershowers, intermittent or steady; and when not doing that, the weather hass been hot and sticky.


Our wet season has been object of envy for the regions suffering extreme heat, drought, and fire. Can't say much to that, other than wherever one lives, one has one's own weather crosses to bear.

Anyway, yesterday afternoon's storm unleashed 5+ inches of rain in about 40 minutes -- massively overloading the drainage capability of the landscape. Result: Road washout. Pond overflow. Well drowning. Plumbing muckage. Driveway scouring. Normality disruption for the rest of the day.

All that in our dooryard; then out on the main road, mudslides and property destruction. In other words, a honking great mess, on par with the damage generated by Hurricane Irene two summers ago.

The big difference is that this storm was local -- neighborhood vs. state -- so that our little dead-end road was first on the repair list instead of last. Nice change of pace for us, and a relief for the state as a whole.

Here's what it looked like in the first hour afterward:

What you're seeing is where the town road meets the bottom of our driveway. High on the right is the entry of the dry streambed designed for runoff, now so full that it jumped the (blocked) culvert and sliced down the side of the road (1-3 feet deep) instead of under it, then washed across it (6-9 inches deep) to deposit all the removed road surface material into our pond, out of sight on the left.

Out of sight on the right, about where the tree disappears into the ferns, is our well. The downstream flood was so intense that it ran through the woods and flooded the well and lifted its 8x4 plywood lid, dumping it into the stream that normally feeds the pond, and filling the well with muck.

Good thing we have lots of filters in our plumbing, else this flow would have gunked up the whole house. As it was, the filters had 1/8" of glop completely encasing them.

By next morning, the town road crew had patched it all back together, but town budget won't allow replacing the damaged, too-small culvert and engineering the drainage correctly. Thus, this will continue to happen every few years whenever we have a Weather Event.

Our tax dollars at work: solving or ignoring problems intead of preventing or fixing them. At least we could get out!