Playing in the dirt.

Archive for the ‘Grow Write Guild’ Category

Inspiration and Influence

Most recently, Gayla has asked who or what we look to for inspiration in our garden, with Grow Write Guild prompt #4.

For me, that would be Genevieve Mason, a woman I came to meet when my high school biology teacher tracked me down at the end of my senior year to ask if I’d like a job over the summer working in her stepmother’s garden.  Mrs. Mason, in her mid-eighties and frail health, was ordered by her doctors to have someone else tend her garden for her, lest she overwork herself.  I would have gladly done the work as a favor to one of my favorite teachers, but Mrs. Mason would not hear of it, and so we settled on a polite arrangement where once a week I gave her two hours of pruning and weeding, and she would give me a five dollar bill.

She was a delightful woman who had traveled a great deal, mostly to French-speaking countries and most often to France, having been a French teacher before her retirement.  Her husband had been gone for several years, and I expect that our three hours of conversation each week were a greater service to her than the two hours I spent in the garden before she would kindly insist that I come in and have a drink and rest a bit before walking home in the heat.

One of the first things she had me do was plant a flat of pansies right up against the house, and while I do not currently keep pansies, I always think of her when I see them, and if I ever get my Someday and have land of my own, pansies will be tucked in somewhere in her honor.  She had the most amazing climbing roses, which I pruned under her direction.  By mid-summer, when she wanted to add some soil amendments, I told her that I’d bring her a couple of bags of rabbit manure for free, so she could just buy enough pretty “dirt” to cover it with.  She was pleased with the offer, and so the next week, I spent the first hour spreading rabbit manure around flowers of every description, and the second spreading garden soil over the top of it.

She introduced me to Queen Anne cherries, and she had an impossible number of herbs in a tiny herb garden just off her kitchen.  Mint had escaped its bed near the garage, and I spent one week doing nothing but digging it out of the lawn.  She told me to take as many of the cuttings as I wanted, with the suggestion that I keep it in a large pot as she looked over the lawn to see if she could see any other strays.

She had two overgrown evergreen shrubs of some ilk on either side of her front door–which I never used, having been directed to the kitchen door ’round the side–but that she wanted to prune to clear the doorway of encroaching branches.  When I told her that I hadn’t the first idea how to prune evergreens, she said that she didn’t care, she hated the things, anyway, and to just cut it all back so that the doorway was clear six inches all the way around, as high as I could reach.  It was a hack job, but she was happy with it, and I have still never learned how to properly prune evergreens.

I left for college at the end of August, and that last week, she told me that her garden had not looked so lovely in many years and thanked me for helping her get it back into shape.  Then she gave me her suitcase, an old and battered light blue hard-side with her initials writ large on the side in red electrical tape, saying that her traveling days were over, but she hoped the suitcase that had served her well for many years would be of use to me as I packed to move several states away.

Mrs. Mason died that December, just three days before my great-grandfather also passed away, and news of both reached me an hour before a chemistry test.  I failed the exam, but I’ve had more use for the things I learned from her, anyway.



It’s time to tackle Grow Write Guild Writing Prompt #3, which is the first in what promises to be a very interesting series of posts documenting changes our garden spaces from the beginning of the season through the summer.

My garden is dry and brown right now, in part because three days ago, it was under a layer of airy, dirty snow.  We’re also back under a winter storm warning, so it might well be back under a layer of snow by this time tomorrow.  So, while my seedlings enjoy their continued respite from our harsh climate, my garden looks like this:

A raised garden bed with an A-frame cover next to it.

Last year’s bed and cover.

I set the cover on the ground for the winter, deciding that it would be less damaged by contact with the soil than it would be by being continually blown off the bed and into the fence.  (Wyoming is where the wind lives. It just visits other places.)  I wasn’t sure it was going to survive the winter, either way, so I’m pleased to report that it seems perfectly sound and able to withstand a second season.  I pulled chicken wire across the bed and stapled it down to keep the feral cats from using my garden as a litter box all winter, also with success.  The twine strung every almost-foot is broken in several places, but I expected to need to restring my spacing markers anyway.  I’ll pull the staples for that when I remove the chicken wire, and cut it into suitable lengths to leave for birds to use as nesting material.  The robins have started to arrive, but they’re squabbling about whose bright idea it was to return before it was done snowing.

This year, I’m expanding out a bit to the north, where there are few stands of the tough bunched oats to fight through:

Dry prairie with a fence and some assorted junk.

Oh, the places we’ll go!

The dirt pile in the background was pulled off the front “yard” of the other home on the property, after having been soaked in herbicide so the owner could put in a rock garden.  While the herbicide indicated that it should break down into a harmless form in short order, I don’t plan to trust that dirt pile until I see it covered in weeds other than the ubiquitous and invasive Salsola iberica, or Russian thistle, an ironic symbol of the Old American West better known to many people as “tumbleweed.”  The stuff will grow in the absolute worst conditions, in soil still toxic to most other plants.  I usually pull them up in the hopes of keeping their numbers down to a dull roar, but since they’ll help rehabilitate that soil, I’ll leave what grows there alone.

Some assorted trash has blown in over the winter and will need gathered up and disposed of as appropriate, and that ancient CRT monitor marks the resting place of a beloved house cat, for the entirely pragmatic reason of keeping the foxes out of it.

Don’t let the stark brown fool you, though.  The grass is starting to green up around the base, where the dead blades from last year offer a little protection from the unrelenting wind and freezing temperatures.  Since I took the photos, I have scraped off the top layer from the areas for two new beds, leveled out a “bump” across one of them, removed the monitor (it’s been a couple of years, so there’s no remaining risk) and filled the depression in with the excess I scraped off the two new areas.

There’s still a lot of work ahead, but the first bits are done, so there’s that much less still to do.

Dream Garden

Grow Write Guild writing prompt #2 is “Describe your fantasy garden.”  I spend a lot of time in my fantasy garden, so please allow me to invite you to join me there today.

A stone path leads to an arch draped with flowering vines.  Two hummingbirds dance around and through, visiting tiny red trumpets.  Long rows of hedges meander away to either side, dotted here and there with flowers or fruit, and the low hum of bees floats warmly on a lazy afternoon breeze.  Benches tuck themselves into corners and cul-de-sacs to offer respite from the walking and the weeding.

Stepping through the arch, a five acre patch of vibrant life is bounded on all sides with hedges of various flowering and fruiting shrubs, broken in places by more festooned archways, mismatched in material and vines alike.  In the center, a grove of nut trees shades a sweet spring that trickles over small boulders to fill a small pond stocked with fish and water-loving plants.  Small green frogs plop into the water or catch bugs on the shore.  An enamel cup hangs from a nearby branch, and a trick of the light shows its fellows tucked about on handy twigs, inviting those who enter to partake.

Stone walkways wander among various beds, edibles and flowers interspersed.  Here, glass gem corn grows among feathery dill, and low bean bushes follow the curved south edge.  There, bee balm reaches high behind a bed of zucchini dotted with  dwarf nasturtiums.  Standoffish sunflowers pay their respects to Apollo in a bed all their own, and fruit trees cluster in several places, offering shade to beds of lettuce and and shy coralbells and hellebores, watching over hostas and trellised peas.

Shocks of tall green grasses poke up among root vegetables, waiting only time to turn golden and heavy with grain.  Everbearing strawberries offer sweet fruit, and elderberries make a thicket of potential marking time until they become jam or wine.

Beehives sit in opposite corners, as tiny commuters take to their traffic lanes, heading out to work at collecting pollen then back in again to put it up for winter as sticky sweet honey.  Hammocks sway invitingly among the trees near the pond, and it is there, dear reader, that I will leave you to your own devices, and you may feel free to roam about and sample the edibles.  I’m going to climb into that hammock right there and pull my hat over my face for a while.

My First Plant

Gayla at You Grow Girl has started a writing club for gardeners called The Grow Write Guild, and the first writing prompt was posted on the 19th, “My First Plant.”

That’s easy, right?  I mean, I clearly remember my first plant was the tiny start of a Christmas cactus my friend gave me from her sprawling bedroom decor when I was about fourteen, that my obnoxious rabbit ended up eating one day while I was at school and she was occupying a box in my bedroom because she’d kindled on the worst night possible and lost half the litter to freezing temperatures before I got there to feed her breakfast.  I stuffed the two surviving kits into my coat pockets with handsful of straw, and hurried back into the house to put them in a shoebox beside a heater vent, to warm the poor wee things back up.  Then she’d refused them, so I had to hold her down to let them nurse for the three days it took for her to accept that they really were her own kits, and it was still unseasonably cold, so that was just easier to do in the house.  She ate a geranium that day, too, and I’m certain that she dug up the pricklier cactus out of sheer spite that she couldn’t eat that as well.

Except that no, that came after the year when I was about eleven, and we had a plot at the community garden, and I had, among a few other things in my small section, the most adorable and perfectly round jack o-lantern pumpkin you can imagine, and someone stole it right out of my patch the day before I went to pick it.  I was crushed.

But that’s not it, either.  No, that was the one when I was about seven, and we had an acre and a half under the plow, and each of us kids had our own little strung-off section, and I planted radishes and watermelon in mine.  I don’t really remember the radishes, but that watermelon plant grew one beautiful melon.  It was dark green, and it seemed enormous, so much so that I could barely get my arms around it when It Was Time.  I was so proud carrying it all the way back to the house myself (which amounted to little more than across the driveway), and I remember it looked so dark inside after being out in the sun.  We carved it up and ate it for dessert that night.  I don’t remember a thing of how it tasted, but I remember the ungainly size of it, and the heavy potential of it, as I leaned way back to counterbalance it on the short trek from field to fridge.

That one was definitely my first plant.