Recess in the Gardenhood

Wednesday evening this week, Rose and Diane, who work with me in Green Way’s gardens, agreed to let me cook for them.

We needed to talk about the coming season, how drought will effect our work load. Passionate gardeners often find ourselves with many other things in common. Our conversation ranged over several countrysides. And while we laughed, exclaimed, solved the world’s problems, and, yes, ate, it snowed.

It snowed a real snow. Moisture laden. Four inches in the three hours. They left in a quiet sifting of heavy flakes and a celebratory mood.

5inches

The official total out at the airport was 7.3 inches. The patio table on the flat corner lot captured five.

Makoto Moore, meteorologist with the national weather service in Pueblo, CO, says “We’re still knee deep in drought.” But snow on the ground lasting for several days and the clean fragrance of fallen clouds raises spirits and has everyone hoping for more.

Up in the mountains as much as 17.5 inches of powder accumulated. Good news for the river basins.

Did you know that no rivers flow into Colorado? Here, instead, are the headwaters of the Platte, the Arkansas, the Colorado, the Rio Grande, and more.

Snowpack remains at 75% of normal statewide, but with March and April typically the snowiest months, fingers are crossed that February’s treasure will kickstart a productive spring. You can almost hear as folks around the state take turns holding their breath.

Another big storm heads our way tonight. Cell phones have buzzed: blizzard warnings are posted.

Today, however, I declared a recess in the gardenhood. The sun polished the sky into a porcelain blue. Wednesday’s snow shrank and liquified, singing its way down gutters and storm grates. I strolled on down to Shooks Run just to hear the liquid music. Upstream, inside the fence of the municiple golf course, ancient western willow raised their broad and glorious heads, bright February gold twigs against high, icy bands of clouds.

Back in the office, a message from my cousin Ginny alerted me to the March issue of National Geographic. There is an article on fracking in North Dakota. It attempts to give a balanced socio-economic look at the changes fracking is making in the state. The photos by Eugene Richards convey the story beautifully. However, a quick reading yielded no information on troubles ranchers are having with their livestock. There is always more to the story.

Alright, back to recess!

Tracking the gardener.

Tracking the gardener.

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Home on the Range

Graphic source: The Colorado Springs Independent.

Graphic source: The Colorado Springs Independent.

Our little neck of the prairie faces a crisis.

In case you hadn’t heard, 2012 was the hottest year in the 117 that records have been kept in Colorado, a full 109% above average.

And it didn’t rain or snow, either. Not much, anyway. A scant 8.11 inches fell on Colorado Springs for the entire year, less than half our semi-arid average. We actually haven’t seen an average year in a long time. We have entered an extreme and persistent drought, and NOAA’s predictions for 2013 give no reason to hope for improvement.

Colorado Springs Utilities reports that 2012 water usage in the city was the highest since 2001, the year before our last worst year. And that, even though households all over town have turned off their outdoor spigots, rolled out weed barrier, and spread rocks to create moonscapes.

The water that flows from our taps is surface water, starting out as mountain snow. Seventy per cent of our water is from the Colorado River basin. Snow pack in that basin stands at 40% of average. It would take very large amounts of wet spring snow to pull us up to average. An unlikely eventuality.

Currently, Colorado Springs is on voluntary outdoor watering restrictions. Residents are asked to water only once a month this winter in order to preserve their landscapes and conserve our common resource.

Mandatory restrictions for the growing season are almost guaranteed. Although the final word hasn’t been spoken, in all likelihood, we’ll be restricted to watering two days a week and charged a fee for using more than 2000 cubic feet a month. To put this in perspective, the flat corner lot — about 4500 sq ft of lawn and gardens — received from 2025 to 3584 cubic feet a month from June through September last year. I divided the garden into 3 sections, and watered each section twice a week. While nothing perished, it was far from a banner year. For most of the summer, the lawn crunched under foot.

With a few careful strategies and some changes in design, the garden will come through. There isn’t a gardener alive who hasn’t experienced set backs, bad years, and disappointments. Years like these help us become better gardeners, if we’ll learn to adapt and keep our spirits up.

What’s disturbing, is this: Ultra, a Texas-based oil and gas company has purchased 18,000 acres of mostly undeveloped land within the city limits. They have been granted two state permits for drilling exploratory wells on that land. Our city council believes that our land use regulations could be adapted to allow oil and gas drilling within the city.

We’re talking hydraulic fracturing, folks, right here in no-river city. And while Colorado Springs Utilities hasn’t yet been approached as a source for the water required to frack the earth, their number crunchers have determined they could, if they were asked.

Seriously? Our urban forest can die for lack of water, our gardens shrivel, and our lawns turn to dust, but there’s enough water to frack? Seriously? In a state where rainbarrels are illegal because every drop that falls on the land belongs to farmers and other enterprises downstream, you can even consider taking 5 to 50 million gallons of water per well and rendering it unfit for any other use?

Fracking isn’t new and it certainly isn’t isolated to Colorado Springs. However, the local issue is representative of the larger one. In a world where demands on water for life’s basic necessities are outstripping supplies, destroying water for profit sounds more like a war crime than a smart idea. And the local issue is where I feel empowered to take a stand.

The odds of standing down the oil and gas companies are stacked. They’re attempting to lull us with a spate of radio and television ads telling us fracking is as good for us as loaf of sliced bread. However, if enough good people tell our city council to just say NO, maybe we could defend our home on the range and be the seed of something bigger.

The Chinese character for crisis is formed from the characters for danger and opportunity. Gardeners face adversity and turn it into a chance to improve our skills. I’m counting on the gardener in every person to face the danger of fracking and turn it into an opportunity to move our country into a wiser relationship with water and earth.

Homely: A Valentine

the old home garden

Sleeping Bear Oasis, where I garden before the flat corner lot.

Would it be a stretch to say you love your garden? It might frustrate you from time to time (OK, a lot). There may even be times you want to tear out whole beds. Start over. Walk away. Then, there are the moments you wrap your hands around a mug of favorite brew and take a stroll. You might bend to lift a flowery face or pinch away a browned leaf, but mostly you just look, even admire. This isn’t because there’s nothing to do, no weed to pull, no hose to drag. It’s simply because you want to visit, to be together with your garden.

You might grab your camera and snap photo after photo of the same greenly emerging bun, the same trio of lilies, the same burnished ferns that you photographed last week, last year, or the year before. Approaching plants just like the children you adore, you only wish you could say, “Smile for me, honey.” If you’re like me, you probably do say, “Oh, you’re so beautiful.”

“Most of us intuitively believe that the things we labor at are the things we love…” wrote Shankar Vedantam in Why You Love That Ikea Table, Even if It’s Crooked which aired on NPR’s morning edition on 6 February 2013. “What if… it isn’t love that leads to labor, but labor that leads to love?”

To pursue the question, Vedantam spoke with Tulane University Marketing professor, Daniel Mochon, about a phenomenon he calls the Ikea Effect. “Imagine that you built a table,” Mochon said. “Maybe it came out a little bit crooked. Probably your wife or your neighbor would see it for what it is, you know? A shoddy piece of workmanship. But to you that table might seem really great, because you’re the one who created it. It’s the fruit of your labor. And that is really the idea behind the Ikea Effect.”

From a marketing director’s point of view, this effect is a great way to get people in the door. For every person who has ever struggled against criticism, Mochon says, “Building your own stuff boosts your feelings of pride and competence, and also signals to others that you are competent.”

Any gardener who has successfully pruned an overgrown red twig dogwood knows the truth of that.

In the business world, however, it turns out the Ikea Effect has a definite downside. It can cause a detrimental loss of objectivity. After laboring on a concept for a couple of months, the person working on the project or an entire company may fall in love with their idea and not see its flaws. It becomes a failed project, and time and money are lost.

To some extent, we gardeners are subject to the same failing. And I think we can turn it to our advantage.

Some years back, my old garden was suggested as a possibility for a garden tour. A statewide organization of garden clubs sent a representative from Denver to deem whether or not my garden was worthy. She came before I had a chance to do some planned maintenance, and I arrived home in time to see her standing in the mess, gesturing toward a brush pile near a chain-link fence, and shaking her head at the local garden club representative. My face and ears burned with a bit of shame and a dollop of anger.

broom in panorama

Deemed unworthy.

Here is where a gardener has a definite advantage over the Ikea Effect. For two truths were revealed that day: 1) An outsider declared my garden a failed project in business terms. She saw my garden through the objective eyes of one who had a certain standard, which my garden didn’t meet. 2) I loved my garden, anyway. My time and money were far from wasted.

I don’t only mean I loved my garden sentimentally (which I surely did). I mean I loved it by rolling down my sleeves, removing what didn’t belong, and providing what it needed. Even more, I loved it by seeing the uniqueness and beauty it offered, photographing it, and sharing it with friends.

I confess, I often think of the flat corner lot as homely. Budget constraints in time and money haven’t allowed me to fill it with plants and sculpt it with stones. Even so, I love it. Loving a garden transforms both it and the gardener. It allows the gardener to change definitions of beauty. When I look up homely in my German/English dictionary I find the word heimlig, which means atmospheric. The gardenhood cradles the atmosphere of home.

About a million years ago, I read The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm. His love-as-verb approach shook my romantic adolescent concepts of love to the ground. As the Ikea Effect — labor leading to love — jogged my memory of reading Fromm, l had to look up the quotation. He wrote, “Love isn’t something natural. Rather it requires discipline, concentration, patience, faith, and the overcoming of narcissm. It isn’t a feeling, it’s a practice.”

Gardening, too, is a practice by which we come to love.

Home is Where Your Madness Blooms

on the line

Last summer, hanging a week’s worth of gardening garb out to dry, I noticed that some of the T-shirts were more faded on the back than in the front. Chuckling to my self, I thought, “You know you’re a gardener when this happens.” Quicker than the proverbial wink, the question followed: When did I actually know I was a gardener? Did it really begin when grade-school-me planted carrots in the sandbox outside the kitchen door?

Those questions sprouted into something tasty, like one of those beds of multi-colored lettuces. When does a person become a gardener? Are we born this way? Does some latent gene kick in when we’re exposed to grandparents bending over a zinnia or row of beans? Or is it environmental? Is there a virus that enters through the eye, under the fingernails, or in the perfume of a peony? How do you know you’re a gardener? What are the signs? Is it madness?

I’d been listening to my own true confessions on this obsession when I encountered a blog called PJGirl. There, I learned you just might know you’re a gardener if, after an hour of gardening first thing in the morning, you realize you’re outdoors in your pajamas. Madness delighfully confirmed.

Here we are. It’s February, and all the gardeners we know (in the northern hemisphere, that is) are swooning over seed catalogs or readying shelves and window sills for those little starter pots. We’re reading books, cleaning and sharpening our tools, sorting thorugh last year’s notes and photos. We’re pining for the smell of mud and can’t wait to come into the house with wet trouser knees. Is this how we know we’re gardeners?

Well, I’d like to find out.

Gardenhood turns two this week, and I turn 60, and the questions just won’t stop.

Today’s questions: Would you like to help me celebrate? Would you be willing to share your true confession? How do YOU know that you’re a gardener? And if you say you’re not, how are you so sure? (Hint, killing plants might actually mean you are). You’ll notice there are no qualifiers here. I didn’t ask you if you’re a real gardener, a talented gardener, or even a successful one.

Let me prime the pump with a few confessions of my own.

You know you’re a gardener when watching a movie — even a thriller or a stunning romance — you’re naming all the plants. Worse yet, you pause the DVD to get a positive ID.

You know you’re a gardener, when you get what it means to have a “gardener’s gap”. Moreover, you have a swath of tan there.

You know you’re a gardener, when you miss weddings, meals with friends, and your monthly book-group meeting because it’s May.

True confessions can be posted in the comment section, or if you’d rather, send an email to gardenhood88@gmail.com.

Thank you for two great years. May your madness bloom with joy.