Monday, March 18, 2013

Lessons From the Garden

Saturday, our daughter and I attended a Western Landscape Symposium. Partly because we are new to this area, this unique climate, and mostly because we love plants and gardening, we looked forward to a full day of learning and listening to experienced gardeners who love what we love. She signed up for a plot in a community garden which she can start working in next month. I have a raised bed with chard, beets and spinach held over through the winter, and in a couple weeks can start some of the cool season crops.

We were surprised by how much the speakers love what they do. Their delight and enthusiasm was contagious, whether they were talking about soil or bugs or landscaping or vegetables.

The gal who talked about knowing the condition of our soil is a thirty year veteran of soil study and soil love. (I have some sons I thought might make a career out of dirt, the way they reveled in it when they were younger.) This gal thrilled to talk about and share her knowledge. Obviously, what she shared with us was just the tip of the iceberg of all she knew: chemical properties, the living, breathing processes going on in our soil, [a new term I learned: aggregation, the microbial exudates (micro-poo) that aggregates in our soil, increasing the porosity, aeration and drainage in our soil - love that thought, micro-poo from all the critters in the soil], and that some factors of our soil cannot be changed. Some things we just have to accept and work with. For example, here in the west, our soils have lime. In the east, gardeners add lime. She suggested a test. Put some soil from the yard in a container and sprinkle vinegar on it. If there is lime, it will foam up, like when you mix baking soda and vinegar. We tried it when we got home, and sure enough, the dirt fizzled and sizzled. The presence of lime means certain plants will not do well. Don't expect to grow eastern plants in western soil. Accept that, and plant what thrives here.

Lesson:  What do I love to study and talk about?            
             What conditions do I need to accept and work with, not against?
             How about you, how would you answer these questions?

The bug talk was my favorite. A huge surprise because I am a gardener squeamish around bugs and crawly things. Ugh. This man, an entemologist walked onto the stage wearing red converse. We knew right away he would not be boring. Understanding that the larvae and the different stages of an insect's life each require a different type of food, shelter and needs was fascinating. He actually plants certain types of flowers and plants to attract those shuddery creepy crawling things I attempt to avoid. Or eliminate the moment I see them. He encourages them. He encourages his grandchildren to admire the caterpillars that will turn in to beautiful butterflies, accepting the little bit of leaf damage they do as part of the process of the beauty they will create as the mature butterflies flutter around our gardens drinking nectar from the flowers. I have a new perspective. When I see one of these caterpillars, I can think, "Oh look, you are a baby butterfly." I won't go so far as to say, "Cute," but I understand, in a new, deeper way, that there is give and take in nature, in my garden, and accept the processes that go on as part of God's created world, part of His design. 

Lesson: Those in life who bug us, who annoy us - understand they have needs of their own and when possible, provide for those needs. If we understand and accept, we have a better chance to happily co-exist.

The gardener who talked about growing vegetables was a many year veteran of community gardens, working in schools, low income neighborhoods, churches and businesses, offering classes and advice to encourage healthy eating and understand our food and where it comes from. He also was a deep well of experience and information, listing specific varieties that do well in this area and techniques, full of stories and joy that overflowed as he described delicious produce. Made me want to crunch on raw vegies, fresh from the sun-warmed garden (a few months from now).

Lesson: The work we love should be shared with others, for their benefit and nurture.

Where we live is considered high desert. Many of the homes landscape with rock. As renters, we work with the landscape our owners put in, which, fortunately for us, includes some patches of grass and evergreen shrubs. With the decorative rock. I don't mind, as long as there is some green, and they said I could plant whatever I wanted. We will be under water restrictions this year, limiting plant choices. We have lived with water restrictions before, and I know how to be wise and save what water we can to use on the plants. The gardener who talked about landscape listed many, many beautiful plants that require little water, flourish in this climate and offer much more beauty than rocks. I can't wait to get started - another week or two, and we can start planting. Yes!

Lesson: No matter where we live, whatever our circumstances, with creative thinking and work, we can create little spots of beauty.

photos from Passionate Gardening, Lauren Springer


  1. What a fun thing to do with a daughter. And I love your lessons! I am pondering the questions. In fact I wrote all your lessons down. Great food for thought and study!!

  2. We must be kindred spirits. I enjoy gardening but really hate bugs!

    1. Went to another gardening class this weekend (in the snow!) and the gal said a similar thing - that we should plant the food for the larvae and the squirmy things that feed the birds and become the pretty butterflies. Really expanding my thinking here - although not sure how I'll feel when those squishy things are actually eating the leaves.