Gardening

handplow
"I refuse to leave remaining roots to serve as witnesses to any inept beheading of weed tops."

I consider myself a student of gardening. Not a grad student, either. I'm still struggling to learn my way around soil, water, plants, and light. True, I have recovered several gardens in my time, each different, results personally paved with many, many grievous errors along the way. My greatest influence might have been an early and repeated exposure to The Victory Garden, a PBS series filmed on a former heavily compacted clay parking lot turned into an immaculate acre of garden, complete with greenhouse and a host with seventy years of experience. It all looked so easy and fulfilling, with no episodes focusing upon endless weeding and broken turning forks. Heck, that garden hardly attracted any weeds at all.

I never tried to transform a heavily compacted clay parking lot into an immaculate acre, but I have amended soil with peat, perlite, sweat, and love.
My goal was never immaculate. I prefer the indistinct borders of an English country garden to the severe formality of a French one. I've routed out stumps, digging halfway to China to get beneath the roots, and leveled the remaining soils into an indistinguishable continuum. I've tried at least a thousand techniques, but I've centered around a spare handful of them. I live and die by my Korean Hand Plow, a tool I use for almost everything. Nothing cultivates soil like it. It's also a dandy dandelion popper. I usually carry it in my handy leather tool belt, hung from the hammer rung, so it's ready to hand but not taking up any hand space unless it's needed. I wear gloves, too, leather ones, a pair of which I inevitably wear out by growing season end.

I'm an enthusiastic weeder, gratefully succumbing to an innate desire to tidy up. With my hand plow, I can follow cheat grass rhizome to its many sources. I refuse to leave remaining roots to serve as witnesses to any inept beheading of weed tops. I've traced swamp elm roots across broad expanses of lawn, beneath decks and gazebos, through evergreen shrub root balls, taking no prisoners. I'm a wimp of a pruner, though, not nearly heartless enough to best serve the plant. I have pollarded flowering crabapple, though, and been rewarded by vigorous flowering and subsequent growth. Still, each time, I tend to forestall my pruner short of a really decent haircut.

I think of my garden as an obligation, an entity that levels me and keeps me grounded where I might otherwise drift off on some wild-assed goose chase. I'm religious in my watering habit and hate to leave home during dry season. I'm obsessive in my mowing habits, too, cutting the grass shorter than the climate really prefers, but only because I'm too cheap-assed to buy a different mower. I avoid power tools. My neighbor apologized for not trimming around his neglected roadside conifer, explaining that he'd rebuilt the carburetor and tried everything he knows but still could not get the little engine to start. This is exactly why I refuse to offer refuge to little engines. I can't rebuild them and I usually spend most of my use time futily pulling the starter cord, failing to get them started. I swear they're all products of MicroSoft Labs.

I love the scent of moist earth. When traveling, The Muse and I often visit gardens, where I'll relieve some of my anxiety at being separated from my garden by surreptitiously pulling weeds. I pull weeds I find growing in flower pots in nurseries, too. I'm presently negotiating with my better self to cultivate our rocky back yard into a more authentic mountain meadow instead of the failed bluegrass English Country Garden former tenets bequeathed to us. It's a daunting undertaking, likely to try my patience and inflame my back muscles. I can't not do it, though. I think it healthy for me to spend time on my knees, digging out rocks, improving the soil. The fingernail brush seems to smile when I drag my weary ass back inside after gardening. Later, as the sun sets, that freshly turned moist soil smell will fill my head with genuine wonder.

©2018 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved









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