Saturday, May 17, 2014

June, Part 2

June, Part 2

Every gardener is an artist in this most ancient sense.

The seeds and starts, balled trees, piles of rocks, and bags of soil amendment are pieces of a vision already seen, to be brought together with a willing toil and persistence.

Even when the planting and placing of the elements of this vision is done, the vision is not yet attained: what was once seen is still a future glory, which the reality must yet grow into. My hollyhocks just now are two to three feet high, and my vision of them towers over me; in my mind's eye they are seven to eight feet, dropping blooms like small ladies-in-waiting among the clumps of spearmint at their feet. These hollyhocks-to-be, hovering in the air above the current scene, are in a sense the real garden, the garden of the mind toward which the outward garden is progressing.

The two gardens will not come together without labor. We intervene by fighting slugs and removing grass and dandelions, and by watering.


Watering is a different ritual with every gardener-artist.

Some set up their summer sprinklers right away and leave it all to a timer and the available water pressure; those who can afford the initial outlay may invest in a drip system, with the tiny tubes running along every bed, stopping to weep only at a hill of zucchini or at the feet of each of the rhodies.

We're a low-budget outfit, so our tools, especially early in the garden year, tend to be labor-intensive. At each end of the house is a spigot, low to the ground to prevent freezing in winter, and to these we have attached enough lengths of cheap garden hose to reach the ducks, the geese, the upper garden, the lower garden, the orchard garden, and the various fruit trees and flower beds.

Beloved does the animals, the upper garden with her lettuces and brassicas and strawberries, and the Front Beds, which are mostly poppies and marigolds this year -- wherever she can tear out enough mint and oregano.

I do the rest.

This involves a constant war over nozzles.



She really only likes one, a greenish fan-shaped thing that hits exactly the right width at four feet to sweep a garden row in one slow pass. She bought it over twenty years, ago and it has spent enough of that time sunning itself on its coils of hose to have faded in color, and it even seems to have lost weight, as though the years of water rushing through have eroded the plastic from within till we handle it like a blown egg. I dread the day that it falls from some unheeding hand and cracks.

I like the sweep nozzle, too, for the first two minutes, but then I get restive. It hasn't enough reach, and I'm one of those who stands in one spot dispensing favors near and far. So I generally wind up removing the sweep and hanging it in the crook of the nearest lilac, and put in its place an old-fashioned brass nozzle. Antique ones are well made; get one of these. With the brass nozzle you can produce a fine mist eight feet across, or a brave fire-fighter's blast that fans out, forty feet away, just enough to water a distant tree without accidentally digging it up. There's really no better tool for demonstrating the phrase "all-purpose." The only disadvantage to the old brass nozzle that I can discover, but it is a very real one, is that if one removes it to switch to another attachment, and lays just about any old place, with luck one may find it – years later.

Our current compromise is the "pistol-grip." You can get a quite good visible one, bright yellow, American-made, too, for only three dollars. Be absolutely sure to get the one that is garden-hose threaded for attachments. The thing is highly functional as is, but once you learn what the threading is there for you'll be pleased.

There is another gadget in this category, and that is a water wand, the kind that is about three feet long with a valve at one end and a nice aluminum rose at the other, on a slender crooked neck. I like the wand very much, at least when working with young plants, because of the so-tiny droplets it produces without choking back the volume of water the way the brass nozzles do.

The secret to the wand is to hold it "upside down"; the rose should tip up like a flower (a rose), facing the sun, and its drops should rise into the air and fall by force of gravity alone, gently washing the mulch at the feet of your seedlings. The idea is to imitate, not rain, but a long-necked watering can of the English type, with its brass rose. I drape the hose over my shoulder and wander along, visiting plants and offering them the wash of life at their feet, where it's wanted. It's very meditative, using the wand, because there is no backpressure in the hose.

There are times when you want the rain effect of the sweep or the mist of the wand, without losing the flow control offered by the pistol grip mechanism. Because you've bought the one with the threaded barrel, you can simply attach the other nozzles as needed, creating the right tool for the job at hand. I've become fond of attaching just the rose from the wand to the pistol grip nozzle; this results in a gadget that seems exactly what's wanted for perennial herbs and berries.

When I walk about, watering with these various implements, it is generally evening. Direct sun will evaporate much of any water offered at mid-day, and in the mornings I'm off to work. Evenings are good for water economy and good for me. I fall into the routine, still noticing weeds that will need attention, or transplants that have stayed overlong in shock, but mostly I'm able to relax and look around.


Beloved tucks a bit more straw around her newly transplanted lettuce. Canada geese pass overhead here any time of year, though they are at their most spectacular in autumn; we have also mallards who travel in pairs, one green and one brown, and put down in our goose pen to steal cob and talk to our Khaki Campbells across the fence. A swallow sits on the clothesline in his green dinner jacket and scolds me for getting too close to the birdhouse on the potting shed wall. The moon rises, sullen and red-faced at first, then brightens as night comes on, and the last of the sun sweeps up the face of Jasper Mountain and disappears where there will soon be stars. It is altogether restful to water a garden by hand if you have the time.

Take your garden's advice: forget the evening news and the sitcoms. Make the time.

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