“To dream a garden and then to plant it is an act of independence and even defiance to the greater world.”
— Stanley Crawford
Peek into my garage and you’ll get the impression you’re in used sports equipment store. The gear, including a 12-year-old 4Runner, is pretty much the same sort of stuff you have in your garage — bikes, skis, packs, helmets and a sea kayak hanging from the ceiling. The truth of the matter is that I’m never going to use some of this stuff again. That makes me a little sad but it also makes me smile — I might still be capable of change and finding new stuff to care about. Among the toys you’ll also see a rack of gardening tools.
After living at 8,000 feet for twenty years, Blue Eyes and I bought this wreck of a house in north Boulder. We called it The Creak House. We’ve had some work done on it by folks who love what they do for a living. As I met with them once a week, I was a little envious that they could see their work materialize daily into something fairly extraordinary. I needed to do the same thing, albeit on a smaller scale, and maybe for some different reasons.
There was a stretch of dirt and gravel along the driveway where some fool parked his beater truck or a leaking RV for 100 years. The soil was saturated with oil and then the construction crew used it as a wash out. Just about nothing was going to grow there.
When we lived in the mountains, the growing season was about 10 days. And those were precisely the 10 days that all the deer in the world would show up to eat whatever we had managed to grow. One day, we’d have delphiniums in bloom, and, the next day, we’d have scorched earth.
I dug out and hauled off the tainted soil from along the driveway and then put in 4X4 cedar fence posts. Between the fence posts, I built 10 raised beds of various sizes and then hung what is called pig wire between the fence posts and finished off the fence and gate.
My garden is about 12 feet wide and 30 feet long. The fence is a hair over six feet tall. Of course, any self-respecting deer can jump a six-foot fence, but, because of the closeness of the raised beds, the landing zone for this selfsame deer has the appearance of being a tad bit sketchy. So far no deer has attempted the jump.
Building the garden was my way of owning The Creak House through my work. Sure, I get it that you own anything you pay for, but there is something about working on an object that you own that really makes that object yours. It’s like waxing your skis or patching your down jacket.
I actually thought I was building the garden for Blue Eyes. But the truth is that I’ve become a gardener and can spend timeless periods puttering in my garden. Before I leave for work in the morning, I go check to see what has happened since the last time I checked the garden. That was probably last night with a cocktail in my hand. I always see something that needs to be done the next time I garden.
It’s almost summer as I write this sitting in my camp chair in front of the garage and next to the garden. I have garlic a foot high that I bought from Stanley Crawford in Dixon, NM. Read his “Garlic Testament” if you get a chance. I planted the garlic in November and will harvest it in July. Lettuce and beets are starting to come up. We’ll eat one volunteer head of lettuce tonight that survived the late-spring snowstorms.
The Asian Pear is the star of the garden. I’ve trained it to weave its branches into the pig wire. Last year, we got 40 pears from it. The Bartlett Pear struggled last year, but survived the winter and bloomed, as did the Honeycrisp apple. It seems that if I can get the trees through their first year, they do just fine in the raised beds. Beneath the Asian Pear is a lush patch of volunteer cilantro.
In a week or so, we’ll plant tomatoes, basil and one squash plant and maybe something exotic just for the fun of it. One year it was black beans and corn from Peru. We got no corn and enough black beans for maybe two burritos, but the native plants were exotic looking enough to start conversations with the neighbors who wanted a closer look at what I was growing.
If I swing around in my chair I’ll see that the gear is all still there. None of it has moved. But if I look at my garden, I can almost see things changing, even myself.