The Daily Muse

A Garden Journal -- July 2000

12 July - morning

It has been a while since I have been able to wander through our garden... I have spent most of the past two weeks in Mexico- visiting the family of my partner, touring colonial cities, and witnessing the historic elections that were just completed.

One of the enduring legacies of the colonial era in Mexico are the wonderful plazas or zocalos that grace nearly every city and village in the country. They are marvels of both public civility and classical garden design. The plazas serve as markets, running tracks, theaters, edens, playgrounds, cafes, backdrops for romantic rendez-vous and celebrations, and simply as gathering places where old friends can exchange the latest gossip. American cities are, for the most part, devoid of such wonderful public gathering spaces. I'm sorry, but even the nicest mall pales by comparison. The art of idling and relaxation are anathema to the ethos of "shop 'till you drop".

While public life is celebrated in Mexico, private gardens are strictly family affairs. There is no attempt at "curb appeal". Instead, private gardens are hidden from view, passers by can only guess at what lies on the other side of the often forbidding walls. The sound of a fountain, a beautifully carved gate, or a bougainvillea spilling over the stones, may hint at the oasis within, but they are only tantalizing hints.

I hope to incorporate both elements into my garden, an inviting public realm that can be used for gathering and socializing, as well as a private escape. I feel enriched by my visit to the "distant neighbor" which draws ever closer to us. The destinies of our two nations are intertwined as never before. I intend to reflect some of that reality into the design of our garden to come.

19 July - morning

Thirty days without rain, seven or more days of 100 degree heat. Ah, summer in Austin. How can you keep your gardening spirits up in the face of such an onslaught? This may be the first time that I am glad that I am virtually gardenless. Up to this point, all I have done at my new home is to take the unwanted plants that I inherited out; in the heat subtraction always makes more sense than addition. There are still a few "red-tip" photinias that I have yet to throw onto the compost conveyor belt, for some reason it gives me a perverse sense of pleasure to watch them suffer in the heat. (As you might be able to tell I think this is one of the most over-used and undeservingly popular plants of Central Texas.)

This heatwave verifies the need to carefully weigh my options for the new garden. I do not want to create a garden that cannot withstand our semi-permanent state of drought. I am seriously considering removing all but two small patches of grass and using a planting zone technique that congregates the new plants into manageable areas that can be watered by drip irrigation. Drip irrigation systems have come a long way in the past decade, I feel fortunate that I can design one into the garden from scratch.

In a short while, I will be out in the backyard taking exact measurements to pin-point the placement of the trees and other "landmarks". This is the first step towards creating my masterplan. Over the course of the past few weeks an idea for the over-arching scheme has germinated in my mind and I am ready to commit some ideas to paper. It is much more fun to design, rather than plant, a garden when it is 101 degrees outside. But, in three short months, the real work will begin.

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