I went outside today to tackle the vegetable garden - I had a few ideas in mind - help Patrick plant his pea, bean and pumpkin seedlings which are getting too big for their tray, dig the newspaper and peastraw garden; generally create some garden in which to put my seedlings when they are ready. This year I am ready to manage the vege garden more tightly, so that I get a more regular supply of organic vegetables.
But the thing I love best about gardening is that - if you let it - if you listen to the garden, it leads you on a trail which allows you to be co-creator with the garden, instead of dominating it. Iím not so sure this fits in very well with growing x amount of food to feed x amount of people. Only time will tell whether that will be the result.
However, it seems really efficient to me, at least where the flower garden is concerned. I must admit I would like instantly to have a garden like the one around the corner which has Esther Deans style raised beds in the front garden with bales of peastraw lying around, nonchalant, and lots of big leafy vegetable style greenery. I would like to have our long front lawn done out in Esther Deans style raised beds, but if I listen to the garden and go with the flow I expect Iíll get there sooner or later.
When it comes down to it, I like to potter in the garden. Itís my time off from the "real" world where humans must fit into our self-imposed structures. Having thought a lot about the value of structures I think it is obvious they should be a support rather than a jail for humans (and other beings); I think they should be light and flexible.
Listening to the garden and following a trail is not a text book method - because you may be called upon to go in the opposite direction to where you think you should be going. This is a time to have faith and reserve judgment until that particular story is completed. However, for me it always means Iím working with the eco-system not against it
The other week, as usual, I started with a little weeding. No one wants to get tied down by weeds, but I find a little weeding gets me down there with the plants, where I can really see whatís going on. And then it happens - inspiration, in the form of "O, Iím going to do thisÖ" and off I go.
This time, instead of getting on with the vegetables, I spotted the Arctotis, daisy-like plants I was given for my birthday, which seem to thrive here, because they are rapidly taking over the garden, and decided it was time for them to be cut back, before they swallow the more delicate beauties beside them. This plant has cream flowers and silvery green, lightly furred leaves, the silver colour and the fur making them ideal for hot, dry conditions. Being low-lying, they cope will with the noríwesters and stormy southerlies.
They may have been a problem in that garden but they proved ideal for a problem spot, at the edge of the footpath, where the slope and roughness prevents mowing and a dearth of time and flashy garden tools makes weed control a tricky business. Occasionally, our friendly neighbour sweeps across with his weedeater, but I am afraid the council will move in and spray it. I have already planted ice plants, echeveria and echium there, in the autumn, but they will probably take decades to replace the grass and weeds. So I pulled out bits of the Arctotis, which puts down more roots as it spreads and so is easy to get replantable cuttings from, and planted a mixture of this and another similar plant which has dark green leaves and deep pink-purple petaled daisies with black-purple centres which glisten in the bright sun. Together there were about twenty cuttings, all along the front. I love daisies and any plant that looks like them. Simple, maybe common, but mind-blowingly beautiful if you take the time to appreciate them.
Not only was it like coming home from the nursery with twenty plants all the same, to go in the ground, which I have always wanted to do. (I feel envy whenever I see someone with dozens of native grasses and trees in black polythene bags, all set to plant). But they continue the colour and style theme which is beginning to emerge in this garden, in fact grown out of the garden by its own design. I have not planned it, but these cream flowered silver leaved Arctotis echo the colour of the house, which is a creamy white with moss green window frames, and fit in with the feel of the town and the surrounding environment.
I have been rather vague about the look I wanted because it hadnít really crystalised for me. The house is pretty minimalist at present and according to Francis, who has stronger opinions on this kind of thing than me, needed a minimalist garden with plain, strong lines rather than a cornucopia feel.
But anybody whoís ever had a revelatory experience with nature has probably seen how harmonious and balanced it looks underneath that initial look of tangle - every part of it, even those bits we tend to want to get rid of, like "dead heads" and browned off roadside strips of weeds which on closer inspection are little fields of wildflowers.
I think the idea is to have something in mind, or if you have no ideas, carry on until something emerges. For instance, if Iíd wanted a patchwork look, no doubt that would have happened. And itís a living creation so who knows how it will progress.
The garden frontage theme continued when I switched on Christchurchís Plains FM later in the week and tuned into Organic Matters with Peter Green, and happened upon the topic of street frontages, the organic way. The Christchurch City Council has a no-spray register, where you can record your name so that you and your pathside garden do not come in for chemical weed control.
After planting the cuttings, I soaked the ground around each plant, and cut back the larger leaves so that the plant could put all itís energy into the new shoots. To be on the safe side, I should have planted them in the cooler evening rather than in the middle of a soon to be windy day, and I should also have watered them as I went, but trimming them back removed the fast wilting leaves, and then a good day or two of rain settled them in.
By then there was no time left for the vegetables, but the next morning, wandering outside to check out the day, I spotted Patrickís seedlings and before I knew it had my gumboots on and was creating a new piece of garden.
This new garden patch formerly had long rank grass on it, but a quick mow, a good layer of newspaper, (about one newspaper opened up and laid flat), then a layer of grass clippings, aided by three weeks of good, sometimes heavy rain, has killed the grass in two months instead of the expected three.
The first pile of compost we started when we moved in last year has been painfully slow in doing anything. Sometimes it seemed like it might be too dry, other times too cold, sometimes lacking in enough manure to kick it along (although it has had a good dose of friendly compost starter out of a packet). It also looked like what it really needed was a decent sized worm population and a more regular turning over, but the four inch gap between the base and the ground looked like such a good rats nest I was too scared to get stuck in with a fork.
A whole year later it is finally looking like it might nearly be ready, but I remember Lucyís compost heap which she designed and built according to a specific recipe, and which resulted in great looking compost within a very short time.
At present I am thinking along the lines of black polythene, so I can heat them all up and get them cooking. The temperature generated by properly built compost heaps will exceed 82 degrees Celsius (180 degrees Fahrenheit) which is enough to kill most weed seeds and disease-causing organisms.
In any case, I created a third compost heap out the front, this one on the ground, so if there are any worms capable of doing the compost job, they will have easy access to the goods. In any case, there are garden worms and there are compost worms, and I am yet to find out all I need to know about composting worms. And further more, I fear a hot compost heap may not be the best place to be as a worm. For more information on compost heaps, try the Soil and Health Book Club, which for only $5 has Trevorís Compost, By Trevor Hooper (Send orders and cheque made out to Soil and Health Assoc. to The Secretary, Soil and Health, PO Box 36-170, Northcote, Auckland 9).
Seeds and Seedlings: Garden fresh vegetables au naturel.