Tag Archives: gardening

On A Way to Garden

I just received the most wonderful book in the mail, one that is handsome and inspiring and filled with beautiful photographs in a stunning garden.  It is called A Way to Garden by Margaret Roach. Margaret has a somewhat obsessive bent for detail in her own garden, which serves as the subject of this book.  It’s a gorgeous book to look at, and even better to read.  An updated book written 21 years after the first version, she has found that so many things have changed in the world, especially the worlds of plants and climate change that A Way to Garden is really an entirely new book.

I’ve been a fan of Margaret Roach since meeting her on her weekly podcast and web-site by the same name five years ago, when my book Vegetable Literacy came out.  She is bright, hard-working, earnest, erudite and quirky, among a host of other good qualities.  The first book of hers that I read was called Backyard Parables; Lessons on Gardening, and Life. It made me laugh and it made me wince as I travelled with her through a year in her garden. Even though she was hardly just starting out, this new book has stronger legs, shows more maturity, and is based in more experience.  But all of Margaret’s books are wise books.

What pains me about A Way to Garden is that Margaret’s garden is very much an Eastern one. You can just tell that there is plenty of water and acid soil that support many plants that just won’t and don’t care for our highly alkaline New Mexican soil. In a way, it has nothing to do with us—our climate, our aridity, our winds, or the plants that like it here.  Still what I love about this book – really about Margaret— is that she makes room for other forms of life along with the plants in her garden. The book is filled with pictures of the frogs who live there. She can talk about a plant in terms of its ability to attract pollinators. She notices birds and their songs, moths and their patterns, spiders, insects, snakes, and more pesky critters such as squirrels, deer, and a bear. Her garden is far more than plants and this book is, as she says, a blend of horticultural how to and ‘woo-woo” – “the fusion of a science lab with a Buddhist retreat, or a place of non-stop learning and of contemplation, where there is life buzzing to the maximum and also the deepest stillness.” She is such a superb writer I had to use her words.

I encourage you to read this book. It might ignite a sleeping passion that will come to fruition regardless of where you live.

 

Jicama is a legume!

 

Tubers, beans, and leaves of the Jicama plant.

For a few years I had a wonderful job in lower Baja, Mexico working outside of San Jose del Cabo, in the mountains. The project was the dream of the former leader of the band, Tangerine Dream. He wanted to make a retreat where, just for example, the dining room tables were designed in such a way that people couldn’t easily make eye-contact with one another, so that they were, in effect, alone with their thoughts. What was wonderful about the job was not that so much (I  like contact!) but being able to go to Baja every spring, to work with the wonderful and ingenuous Mexicans who could always figure out how to do difficult things with few materials,  to work with rastra blocks of our buildings, and to learn about plants.

I spent a lot of time with a botanist from the area who was showing me some of the native plants we might use in the spa kitchen. He would often say that jicama was a legume. A bean. I thought he was teasing me.

“Really?” I asked him.

“Yes!” he assured me. “It is.”

This issue was set aside for many years until one day, recently, in the Santa Monica farmers market I saw a stand of greens, bean pods, and jicama roots, all entwined and attached to one another.  The botanist was right. Jicama is a bean!

The brown papery covered part that we mostly eat is a swollen tuberous root. If you look at jicama images on line, they never show the beans, only the tuber. But here’s an image that shows all parts of the plant. It’s a bit chaotic, but if you look, you can make out the beans and the roots among the leaves.

I’m not saying you should eat the beans – I’ve read that the leaves have a toxic element so maybe the beans have it too. Plus there are other beans to eat.

But who knew?

Mostly this is just a curious bit of information. Enjoy!

 

What I Learned from the Drought

It’s been a long, hard, hot, dry summer and I’ve tried many times to write about it, but it always gets too moany-groany. So here’s the abbreviated version of what I learned from this summer’s drought, which is actually year 3 of a longer dry period.

 

When it’s dry, plants die. The world is brown instead of green. It’s easy to become depressed.

When it’s dry, there are no mosquitoes, so it’s a pleasure to sit outdoor in the evening.

During the drought the lilac buds just dried up without opening.

There are very few larkspur, although their blooms are welcome.Usually there are hundreds of them.

Leaves on the fruit trees yellow and fall early.

Those plants that do come up seem feeble. They’re shorter. They don’t feel robust, even when watered.

One carries a lot of water from the kitchen to the Magliette Calcio A Poco Prezzo garden. Where will a gallon of water be most effective?

Plants don’t thrive under hose-water, even if it is drip and is from a well. It’s just not like rain.

There are no weeds during the drought. No sprouting elms, no native sunflowers, no buckwheat or mountain spinach (orach), amaranths, pigweed, and tumbleweeds.  There are however lamb’s quarters and purslane. A lot of each.

The first monsoon rain drenching the garden.

The first monsoon rain drenching the garden.

 

When it finally does rain, which, miraculously it did, we are ecstatic.  Strangers talk with one another with hope and happiness in their voices.

I actually think for the moment that the crisis is over, that our weather world will be normal again.

The world turns greens. Or at least greenish.

There are mosquitoes. Lots of them.

And there are weeds. Hundreds and thousands of them.  They were just waiting for that moisture to fall from the sky. I tug at this grassy carpet pulling up elms, sunflowers and amaranths especially, by the handful. If these little green plants were insects or mice, their sheer number would be http://www.magliettedacalcioit.com alarming. Even as plants, go, it’s alarming. The fecundity of annual plants is such that one year when I didn’t weed then went into the far back yard, I was frightened by their sheer density. (The next year is when I started a garden.)

Sunflowers and amaranths seedlings

And now that the mosquitoes have driven me inside, I check my e-mail, and there’s notice for a conference —next February, which is six months hence—whose topic is “Drought, Opportunity for Change.” And that’s the same conclusion I’ve come to this summer. Despite the puddles in the driveway, drier times will continue and I’ve come to believe that the most important thing to cultivate is not this plant or that, but a rising mind, one that looks for and finds those opportunities that must be met if we wish to continue gardening for pleasure, growing food, and finding joy in our drying world. The conclusion?

I’m not moving to a rainier clime (at least for now). And I’m going to tackle gardening in hard times with gusto.