On garden sales and garden smiles in The Amalgamated Aggromulator

  • June 25, 2018, 8:31 a.m.
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  • Public

The summer dawn is long and sweet. Far away across this unpretentious district of town, the birds are waking up.

We are just off a three-day plant sale. A nice, pleasant time of talking with customers, of philosophizing about what might work as a houseplant, of explaining what your attitude should be about that super-hot pepper plant you’re considering buying (do you have any blowhard cousins you want to humble? if your boyfriend is the one who wants to try this, do you know where the nearest ice cream store is, and can you make a note to be the one who drives, because he’ll be insane?). A middle-of-the-road sale, this June sale was. Not the amazing ravenous table-clearing fooraw April and May were because everyone was crazy for it to be true spring. This one had peaceful interludes.

People, especially nervous beginning gardeners, are always far too daunted by the way our bounteous (chaotic) yard turned out. They say, “I could never plan something like this.” We ourselves didn’t. We made plans, yes, you do, and you implement them, but what you see in the end are the remnants of the last five plans, each plan an attempt to get something out of the ruins of the previous wildly different plan. In this way the bones build up. “Overplant. Drive trails through it. Repeat,” I tell them. You also do have to have a certain tolerance for chaos, with having much or some the garden under control at any given time. At least at our size of lot, there are always the Forgotten Frontiers or the Territories in Rebellion. Or the Overrun Lands, with that damned wild clematis and that other thing with the running root-stems that break in segments like they’re made of Legos. (The bindweed that I used to battle is somehow long gone. I don’t think I did it. It met meaner barbarians.) And even if everything else goes right, the plants that are exactly the ones you wanted, in exactly the places you wanted, will keep growing and mess up your plan. You can have a completely artistic and controlled garden if your garden is very small or if you employ a staff to maintain it. Not otherwise.

I wish I could store the garden as it is right now, the way you can never store days to dive into whole when you need to in another, bleaker season. The greenery at peak, not beaten down by the sun the way it will be in another couple of months of this. The single unidentifiable insects that are seen once. My cat sprawled, rolling, sunning her belly. The spots of fiery color, violet, red, white; the flower spills.

I had a triumph of art. We are still transplanted New Mexicans (I am, at least, and Mom kept the liking for chile), so we’ve needed the Anaheim-type peppers, the “chiles with an ‘e’ ” that are the signature fruit of that blessed region, the ones you have to sear black on the gas stove and then pop into a plastic bag to steam themselves so that you can then slip the thick waxy skins off. And we’ve been putting bags of them in the freezer each year, but we always run out long before the next harvest season - sometimes even by midwinter. And you want to feel free to put a lot of chiles in your enchiladas rather than having to settle for “checking the box”. It really pays off. (You can just buy them at the store, but where’s the fun in that?) We have I think twenty-five large black pots in the back yard, along the front of the vegetable patch and down both sides of the path that leads to the north fence, and we dedicate those to pepper plants, but those are a full variety of the kinds of peppers we may need - sweet peppers, scotch bonnets or the much hotter bhut jolokias that are oddly even gentler than the scotch bonnets, miscellaneous new ones that we want to try, etc., and only a few of the Anaheim/Joe Parker/Big Jim type. We needed a lot more of that type. A lot.

So we batted it around and eventually decided to impose order on a weedy area in the front yard, between our front door area and the dahlia sales “showroom”, that at one point was our chipper-shredder work area but then we fell behind and it became our brushpile area which then decomposed into rotten-wood mulch which fed vinca and etc., etc. “Impose order”, after weeding, and after you decide that repeated weed-whacking won’t be enough and will look bad, means a nice woven-black-plastic fabric that you can unroll, that lets water through to some extent. We’ve stabilized a few work areas around the yard that way. Pegged down, it is a good mostly-final answer that - we think - doesn’t starve far-running roots. (And it has widely-spaced bright green stripes on it, I think to help you in rolling it out parallel with previous passes, that I think look really snazzy.) Then I collected fifteen large empty pots that were scattered in various places around the back yard . . . then my mother and I argued about whether the pots I gathered were the right shape, and I yelled, “Mom?! You never properly delegate!”, but I in the end of course acceded to her preference and got some different ones . . . and then I began fretting over how to minimize the degree to which the plants would be shaded by the forward extension of the house on one side and our giant intractible quince on the other, and also how to minimize loss of productivity from the grown plants shading each other. Mom and I theorized over east-west rows vs. north-south rows, disagreeing of course. I began to think of arranging the pots in curves or something . . .

. . . and then, in the final day, everything I had been thinking coalesced into a walking spiral that would (I think) minimize shading from any direction and that would allow me to stroll through and harvest all the plants easily, almost half of them from more than one side, while being able to connect up a drip irrigation system in one simple curving line that will never be a trip hazard.

It looked beautiful, in a sort of Japanese-style simply-right way, and it looks even better now with the growing peppers in them. It pleases my eye. (My sole regret this sale is that, against my expectations, although it is in plain view from the eastward extension of the sales area where people browse for dahlias and daylilies and Oriental lilies, not a single customer exclaimed over the arrangement. The private tragedy of false self-deprecating modesty denied!)

Anyway. All our other summer vegetables - the other peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, yacon - are finally planted too in the back yard, although we took our time about it; other things kept getting in the way. With the sale over, today I will sketch out the final way in which I will extend automatic irrigation to all of them, as well as to a new area under the arms of our largest paw-paw tree where we have put forty paw-paw seedlings, paw-paws needing shade for the first couple of years of life. Our present arrangements effectively split our original back-yard faucet into two different ones, but it always gets complicated after that multiplying them from there (done fresh each time because the vegetable layout changes) and now I have this new factor to add in, all the way on the far side.

(The baby paw-paws are My Advice to Mom, in a way that will remain less than completely comfortable - I argued for them, even though the wholesaler sold them in large blocs - “the only temperate member of a tropical family, banana-custard-tasting fruit, there are traditional rhymes, we love ours, and hardly anyone sells them!” Mom did spend the substantial amount of money but thinks they are one of My Boondoggles. I think the outcome will be in the middle. They will add one more ort of exotic variety to our driveway full of plants - an atmospheric factor that does act to sell more plants that are not the paw-paws - and I do think the paw-paws will all be sold profitably over the next few years . . . but I think they will sell slowly enough that I will Not Quite Be Vindicated. They will not be removed from Mom’s vividly remembered list of My Boondoggles. Which is capacious.)

Our back-yard garden patch, with its three rows of white PVC-over-rebar-holding-netting permanent trellises (each year one row cucumbers, one tomatoes, and one virtuously left fallow with my marijuana pots sitting in the space), has the most beautiful developed garden soil. Originally the deep sand base of an above-ground swimming pool when Mom bought the place. Then it was a compost heap. Then I double-dug the results and got even more rocks out, and it became a vegetable garden, which we mulch every year with straw or dismembered cardboard boxes or both, which the worms steadily munch up and incorporate into the soil to the full depth of their perambulations. That is terrific garden dirt.

And it faces invaders. Not (just) the usual weed seeds, but, as of this year, titanic intrusions by the far-reaching roots of our slowly spreading black bamboo, which (as is its wont, we have learned) behaved like an oversized clumping bamboo for years, minding its own business, until years of our combined activity and neglect improved conditions around it and it began to take an interest in its surroundings. Then the black bamboo reaches out - not with the usual single free-flowing zig-zags of running bamboo roots, I have found, but with perhaps three huge roots branching out from the last place it put up a culm. It’s like unearthing a tyrannosaur foot. At one-to-one scale.

There are two or three pretty good stories I should tell here, that I will pass by for now. Suffice it to say that it is my fate to battle this stuff, and ideally actually somehow harry it back toward its core - not merely by severing connections to the main body and breaking off the shoots, which will starve its excursions, but by actually digging the new outlying culms up intact so that we can pot them up, wait for them to stabilize in the pots, and sell them. Digging them up is extremely arduous work that takes a very long time in most of the perimeter, requiring day allocations, even with the new tools I have (one or two of the stories). Bamboo roots are hardwood, and the dirt they’re embedded in is filled with rubble-rocks thanks to a series of Ice Age megafloods and in summer is hard and dry besides.

But, happily, this problem does not apply to the vegetable garden! I can’t blame the black bamboo for reaching deep into that - it’s a deep, incredibly rich, moisture-holding paradise. I believe, though the evidence is circumstantial, that the two monstrous bamboo roots I found (and I’m not certain that another won’t reveal itself) only began reaching into the vegetable garden since the beginning of this year . . . and in that time they traveled seven and nine feet into the bed respectively. I have been dismally dreading an incursion; the slow, hard-to-reverse march of the outliers not far away has made the possibility clear. But bamboo roots stay within a foot of the surface, and what I found is that, once I discovered the roots (one while I was digging a hole for one of the tomatoes and the shovel stopped jarringly, the other by seeing a sudden brazen cluster of shoots actually slightly past the midpoint of the vegetable garden), I could simply pull them out of the earth by hand once I got a handhold, heavy though they were with delicious loam. (Oh, I wish you could have seen them.) Hand over hand, giant clods rising up and toppling, I could work them back to the edge of the bed and then chop them where the dirt turned uncooperative. So, the area I was the most worried about is actually easier to defend than anywhere else.

The black bamboo clump/incipent grove itself is looking better than ever. Probably due to water and nutrient supply from its invisibly widening roots. This year, in addition to the few outlying new appearances, it surprised me by sending up a picket fence of huge, muscular shoots in along the perimeter of the original core clump - shoots wider in diameter than any of the stalks near them. Actually wide enough to begin to justify black bamboo’s status as a timber bamboo (although for true timber-bamboo sizes we’d need a larger, open grove). And now, when I look at the clump from the corner of the garage . . .
There has up to now, for the last couple of years, been a single tuft of terminal bamboo leaves perhaps four feet higher than the mass of the rest of the tops, perhaps twenty-seven feet to their twenty-three or -four. That single tuft is now surrounded by spear tips. I don’t know that any are going to go more than an inch or so higher than that tuft, I can see signs that the spears are starting to think about leafing out, but the real height of our bamboo clump has definitely increased.
It’s a stark, dramatic sight against the blue. Like a city skyline that is suddenly full of construction cranes.

This ought to have been enough of an obtuse garden ramble to shake off any attempted readers; I’m probably writing in private now. Hee hee. I can say ANYTHING. But I love this yard, in short. The squirrels do too, especially because I keep replenishing the peanut supply.

I did not quite escape energy drinks this sale. I drink them during plant sales, well, for the original caffeine reason, but also because they have a particular effect on me, atypical for me - they make me social, responsive, talkative, and distinctly vapid, actually; it’s as though my internal landscape has been shallowed. Perfect sale-host state of being. I don’t mind it at the time (see under vapidity), but when the metabolic letdown/crash arrives at the end of the day the inner sparseness becomes depressing. I’m not as schmart in the ways I like, or in the ways I enjoy.

I say that I did not quite escape because I thought for a while I might manage it. I still have some of that gram (a couple of small buds) of the Durban Poison I tried. I told you I smoke very little. I tried it instead for the first day - and it was much better than the energy drink! Just as energetic and engaged, no social anxiety - and my arithmetic worked perfectly - and I was generally happier, with none of the shallowing of back-mind. And there isn’t any crash . . . and this particular strain is startlingly long-lasting. “Wow, I’m still in a good mood at 8 p.m.”
. . . But reality has angles.
I was sitting at the sale table by the front gate - and I found myself talking to this woman who liked to talk . . . and who told me about mountain huckleberries . . . and how they’re much tastier than the evergreen huckleberries we have . . . and how you have to go up in the hills to collect them . . . and she said it’s probably illegal to save the seeds(?) . . . and I nodded . . . and she had a somewhat anxious expression on her face, and she started in to tell me the same thing all over again . . . there are mountain huckleberries . . . and they’re in the hills . . . and you have to go find them . . .
. . . and I reached for the jumbo blue energy drink can that I had brought out with me just in case. Wrong gear. When you are representing a sale and you are listening to an extremely tedious person, prattling brightly in a vapid state is much better than wondering (clear though your mind may be) whether you have a good expression on your face or whether it’s starting to deteriorate.

Last updated June 25, 2018

Deleted user June 25, 2018

I grow all kinds of Chile peppers too although I don’t use them as much as I just like growing them ; Thai Dragon, super Chili, Ghost Peppers, Tequila , Scorpion , Spanish Chile’s ... looking for the seeds for Fish Peppers or other rare types . I winter plants over in my sunroom. :-)

Flugendorf Deleted user ⋅ June 25, 2018

Nice! We've wintered a couple of kinds over in a good window; the fatali tends to come out really beautiful that way, like a super-bonsai, hung with endless orange lanterns. We get most of our peppers from Trade Winds Fruit; they've got a great selection.
Here's a fish pepper they have...

Deleted user Flugendorf ⋅ June 25, 2018

I am going to check them out ! Thank you !!! That Fatali variety sounds great . Have you heard of bird peppers ??

Flugendorf Deleted user ⋅ June 26, 2018

Yeah, I've grown a couple of kinds of bird pepper, the Zimbabwe bird pepper last year. They all tend to get your attention. :-)

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