The Daily Muse

A Garden Journal -- July 2001

July 9 - morning

The past few days have been the most rewarding time I've spent in the garden all year. I am amazed every time I step outside the door and see what we have accomplished in the space of eight months.

Our pond is finished and has brought a wonderful new dimension to our back yard. I refer to it as the "well" because it has the look of some ancient and hallowed spring from biblical times. It is lined with massive square cut limestone , natural field stone, river rock, and fossils. Inside, we have added a number of lillies and bog plants. We stocked the pond with some gold fish and it stocked itself with some very rambunctious toads. Last night as the lanterns were flickering on, Victor and I sat beside the pond watching the toads emerge from their hiding places. While we were enjoying the toad parade, a screech owl was calling from nearby trees. It emerged from the cover of the trees for a brief moment before sweeping over the garden, heading off for another night's hunt.

 

The whole garden is filling out and we have a rich diversity of flowering plants that are attracting many butterflies and hummingbirds. A few days ago a black swallowtail butterfly gave me quite a show as it flitted about our porch.

Our irrigation system was also completed just last week- allowing me to spend more time for "fine tuning." Now, I 've turned my attention to some of the transition points in the garden, I 'm playing with some new ideas about how to reinforce them. These gateways between the different parts of the garden are crucial to the experience of visitors, I want them to feel that they are moving from one distinctive room to another, so I want to make the "doors" special. I started this new project by using some of the excess stone from the pond to make stylized columns that stand at the entrance of "possumhaw hollow."

Well, I need to run, though I am greatly tempted to ignore the heat and spend another day of reverie and work in the garden. More soon...

July 10 - morning

One of the greatest rewards of our new garden is our small vegetable and herb patch. Over the course of the past three weeks we have been harvesting buckets of wonderfully flavorful tomatoes. They are a revelation compared with store bought produce. Last Friday, we had friends over and shared the pride of our harvest, a "Jeff Davis" heirloom tomato with delicious pink flesh that was as big as a large-sized grapefruit. Victor used a recipe from Gourmet magazine to make an heirloom tomato tart that also incorporated fresh pesto made with basil from our garden. I mentioned this heavenly creation on my radio show and had listeners begging for the recipe. This tart is the very incarnation of summer on a plate. We found that The Natural Gardener had a wonderful selection of heirlooms and we intend to use even more for our fall garden.

 

July 12 - afternoon

I just popped outside, I had been logging video tapes for a couple of hours and needed a breather. When I stepped onto my back porch I saw a hummingbird visiting our dicliptera (or, as I call it, fuzzy leafed trumpet flower.) After admiring the bird just for a short moment, I turned my attention to the pond where two bright red dragonflies were challenging one another for supremacy. Bees were diving in and out of the waterfall's splash zone, and tadpoles were basking in the warm water near the surface.The trees were positively swarming with cardinals, jays, finches, and a mob of white wing doves that I had just scared away from our little oasis.

A pond will completely transform your garden, and possibly, your life. After taking in the sights above, I felt nothing so much as a profound sense of gratitude. Gratitude to what ever greater-power or accident had led me to this place. It really was an overwhelming feeling. On a few odd occasions in the past, I have felt similar "waves" of gratitude. I remember them as being times of great connection and clarity. I'll never be a candidate for enlightenment, but I do try to hold onto those moments and let them steer me down the path.

I think most gardeners tend to be grateful people, it is in our nature to say thanks for a good rain or a good harvest. We also give thanks for just being there. Gardening can be a singular experience, but it is never a truly individual activity- many voices have guided us, and many friends have lent a hand.

Community and creation, that's a lot to be thankful for.

July 16 - morning

Victor and I have just finished spending a quiet week-end with my parents and friends. Despite the heat, we worked until we were exhausted on Friday, spreading a truck load of mulch. Getting this done was a great relief to me, I felt that the whole garden was being brutalized by the relentless sun. Now, finally, the soil and plants have the protection they need. I wanted to experiment a little, so we used two different mulches. Half of the mulch was a "native Texas" mix comprised mainly of ground up cedar, the other was simply pine straw. I love the look of the pine straw, it has a grassy texture and the smell reminds me of the East Texas piney woods.

We are about to tackle the last of the big chores for this year- sodding the small patch of our garden reserved for grass, we are going to use zoysia and I am about to start the hunt for a reputable supplier. I feel remiss not knowing who to go to, but in my former garden we had no grass and I really have never been interested in lawns. In fact, the only reason that we are including a lawn space now, is for the children who visit our garden. We want them to have a place where they can run around a little- we may even create a playscape for them. Gardens are naturally friendly places for kids, but we really want them to feel welcome. In just an hour, a close friend will be dropping by with her beautiful daughter, I can't wait for her to see the pond. Children have very few "filters" when it comes to delight.

July 21 - morning

I thought that I'd provide a few more shots of our pond to give you a better idea of its place in the overall structure of our garden and how it has been "finished out." The sound of our waterfall has made the 100 degree heat seem almost bearable.

The view from the bedroom window, and what we hope will become a back porch.

 

The ruler of the pond. Fot the moment, at least.

 

The "Well."

July 24 - morning

Although it is only nine o'clock, it is already hot out in the garden. I've made my morning rounds- pulling weeds, pruning basil, and checking the tomatoes for the last of the summer harvest. Our Romas are still producing, but the others are succumbing to the heat. Soon, we'll be either pulling our summer veggies out or pruning them heavily in preparation for the fall garden.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of visiting Selah-Bamberger Ranch. I am working with J. David Bamberger and his wife, Margaret, on a short documentary feature about their stewardship of the land. I am always amazed by what they have accomplished in terms of habitat restoration, but the thing that most impresses me is the feeling that comes over me once I leave the highway behind and make my way down the small ranch roads that lead to Selah. They have created a place of peace- where man and nature have found a way to live together and provide for one another. It truly is remakable. I find myself slowing down, calming down, and breathing a little more deeply.

Despite nearly three months without rain, Selah was still looking pretty green. The restored prairies though parched, seemed healthy, and the streams were running. Anyone who owns land in the Hill Country could learn a great deal from the Bambergers about what it takes to work with mother nature in that very fragile environment.

As we were discussing the documentary, Margaret reminded me that their work, like gardening, is a never ending, always changing process. I thought about that as I made my way around the garden this morning. Even though we have finished the last of our big projects for this year, putting in our small patch of grass ("emerald" zoysia,) the garden will require our attention on a daily basis. In return, it provides many rewards. I can experience some of that same peaceful calm that I felt at Selah by stepping out my back door. That is well worth the effort and committment that we have made. There is nothing easy about being a gardener, and the work never ends, but that is a small price to pay for a little peace of mind in these frenetic times.

July 31 - morning

It is late in the morning, nearly lunch time, I have spent a couple of exhausting hours out in the garden trying to create a new planting bed for a single tree. I dug through hard-packed crushed granite and heavy clay only to discover a hidden water line directly underneath the spot that I had chosen. I suspect that the line is a part of the old sprinkler system that was in place before we moved in. The bad news is that we are still using a part of that system, so, I am afraid it might still be pressurized. Ah, nothing like digging yourself into a frenzy in the unrelenting heat only to be frustrated and unable to complete the job. It finally got so opressive that I had to retreat in doors.

We are approaching a record for the number of days in a row in which we top 100 degrees, if I remember correctly from the last night's news, today will be day number twenty one. To make matters worse, we have not had measurable rainfall in my garden since early June. I thought no summer could be as bad as the last one, but we seem to be headed for a very nasty August. I know that every region of the country presents different challenges to gardeners, but I really do believe that gardeners in Central Texas deserve special respect, if not a reprieve.

Continue to Daily Muse for August 2001

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