Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The Urban Garden And The Drought Of 2016

Acorn squash. Tiny fruit and hardy any foliage.
Six weeks ago the urban garden looked pretty good. Hopeful. We were getting rain, and the temps were staying in the 80s F. Then came July.

Now, I'm almost ashamed to post pictures. This blog post should come with a trigger warning, that the images might be upsetting if you're, say, a vegetarian. This is the worst garden I think I've ever had in my life. Weeks of 90+ degree weather and drought conditions can kill a garden, which is pretty much what happened. Zucchini is something that everyone can grow. First time gardeners: Grow zucchini to really boost your confidence. They will grow to the size of small baseball bats if you don't watch them. But I think we've harvested about three summer squash and one zucchini, and the rest might just get pulled and thrown in one of the compost bins, which, by the way, are heating up in the summer sun and cooking the beejesus out of the compost, killing weed seeds and decomposing the material.

Remember that the deal we have with our landlord is we would only use collected rainwater to water the garden to keep the water bill from going sky high. But, when there isn't water coming out of the sky to replenish the water collection barrels, well... I was at Boston Public Market on Saturday, and one of the farmers there said they dug a pond for water, i.e. they dug a hole to get to the water table to access a supply of water. We did just have about two days of steady rain, and of course that's all it took for the weeds to take off and start choking out the plants.

It's hard to watch a garden get like this. You feel helpless. You total up all of the money you spent on seedlings and take your loss, and you tell yourself, well, at least we're not depending on surviving this way. And of course, then your imagination does wonder what it would be like if you actually did count on this for survival. And in a way we do. We count every penny, and last year, we cut our food bill dramatically with this little garden, so we're going to feel it in our wallet in the coming months. Last year we were living on salads from our garden during the summer, and the squash and eggplant, and I think it was well into March of this year that we finally finished the tomato sauce we had in the freezer from tomatoes we grew ourselves.

Other urban gardeners in our neighborhood are showing varying levels of success. Some gardens are really struggling. When I see one that's thriving, I just assume they're watering every day. One garden I noticed was laced with soaker hoses.  The boxes on the porch, which I hand water sometimes twice a day--between the sun and reflective walls, the porch can really heat up like an oven--are doing fine.

Tomorrow I think I'll do triage, dig up what's not going to survive, and plant peas, just to get them in the ground. I'll pin burlap down over the seeds and wait for cooler weather. Maybe next year we'll put out more than the two rain barrels that we have. Put them under as many downspouts as possible for the inevitable heat wave.

The herb boxes on the porch hang in there with extra TLC.
Oregano (along the back) is very heat tolerant.
Peppers have been producing small, but very flavorful fruit.
Sad potato patch.
The zucchini is barely alive. So sad. We miss sauteed zucchini and onion over pasta, a low-cal summer favorite of ours. 
Summer squash are very small this year.
We're getting tomatoes, but the actual plant is very fragile. Fruit is small.
It's almost unbelievable that these plants can actually yield.
This thyme has been in the garden for a couple of years now, surviving that terrible winter two years ago and this summer.



Friday, June 17, 2016

Lyrics I Wish I Had Written

Sometimes you just go, how did they do that? Where did that come from? 

For me, here's just a sampling:

Too cool to be forgotten

House rules, no exceptions
No bad language, no gambling, no fighting
Sorry, no credit, don't ask
Bathroom wall reads: Is God the answer? Yes.

Ninety-nine and a half just won't do.

Outside my window, I can hear the radio,
And I know that motor wagon is ready to fly,
'cause it's almost Saturday night.

So often times it happens that we live our lives in chains
And we never even know we have the key.

I wanna watch the ocean bend
the edges of the sun then
I wanna get swallowed up in
An ocean of love

I've lost count of the times I've given up on you
But you make such a beautiful wreck, you do
Ya, you make such a beautiful wreck, you do
You make such a beautiful wreck, you do

At the dark end of this bar
What a beautiful wreck you are.

It's better to burn out than it is to rust.

She said her name was Billie Jean and she was fresh in town.
I didn’t know a stage line ran from hell.

And feelin' good was easy, Lord, when he sang the blues
  You know, feelin' good was good enough for me

I wished I was in Austin
In the Chili Parlor Bar
Drinking Mad Dog margaritas.

Won't you share a common disaster?

Some people ain't no damn good
You can't trust 'em, you can't love 'em
No good deed goes unpunished.

Desperado, why don't you come to your senses?
You been out ridin' fences for so long now
Oh, you're a hard one
I know that you got your reasons
These things that are pleasin' you
Can hurt you somehow

Desperado, oh, you ain't gettin' no younger
Your pain and your hunger, they're drivin' you home
And freedom, oh freedom well, that's just some people talkin'
Your prison is walking through this world all alone

Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be cowboys.
Don't let 'em pick guitars or drive them old trucks.
Let 'em be doctors and lawyers and such.

Don't think twice
It's all right.

Why'd you let go of your guitar
Why'd you ever let it go that far
Drunken Angel

Everyday is a winding road
I get a little bit closer
Everyday is a faded sign
I get a little bit closer to feeling fine.

Got two reasons why I cry away each lonely night,
The first one's named sweet Anne Marie and she's my heart's delight.
The second one is prison, babe, the sheriff's on my trail,
And if he catches up with me, I'll spend my life in jail.

Georgia, Georgia, no peace I find.
Just an old sweet song keeps Georgia on my mind.

Even God must get the blues.

God must hate me
He cursed me for eternity
God must hate me
Maybe you should pray for me

Did she make you cry
Make you break down
Shatter your illusions of love
Is it over now- do you know how
Pick up the pieces and go home.

Oh good shepherd
Feed my sheep

So I bought a guitar and I practiced real hard
I wasn't much good, but I was willin'
Till to my chagrin, my girlfriend came in
And she said, "Can you sing any Dylan?"

Out all night playing in a band
looking for a fight
with a guitar in your hand
with a GUITAR in your hand

We all got holes to fill
and them holes are all that's real
some fall on you like a storm
sometimes you dig your own.

I am just a poor boy
Work’s my middle name
If money was the reason
Well I would not be the same.

I love this town... like an unmade bed

I need a love to keep my happy.

It's a long way to Texas... it's a long way back home
It's a three hour flight on the plane when I go
... away from this snow from Boston to South Shore where the
Dreams roll and tumble... and bring the prose to the wheel...

If you're goin' through hell,
Keep on goin'.
Don't slow down:
If you're scared don't show it.
You might get out,
'Fore the devil even knows you're there.

It ain't wise to need someone
As much as I depended on you.

It's goodbye to all my friends.
It's time to go again.

Now that we come showin' up
Rumors bouncin' off of that truck
Just a let 'em stare at her and me
'Cause I don't care about anything but us

And there's nothing wrong with me
This is how I'm supposed to be
In a land of make believe
That don't believe in me

And when you said I scared you,
Well I guess you scared me too.

If I had possession of Judgement Day
I wouldn't have no right to pray.

Now I'm leaving Normal and heading towards Who Knows Where.

I've finally learned that there's good and bad
And that a guy can do some choosin',
Of that I'm glad cause this heart and face
Won't take any more bruisin'.
And the next time I fall in another's arms
There's one thing I'll be certain,
That she can bear the weight of the love I give
Without considering it a burden.

Living Life #9.

When you can't find a friend
You've still got the radio.

Livin' on refried dreams.

Guess I've got that old travlin' bone, 'cause this feelin' won't leave me alone.
But I won't, won't be losin' my way, no, no
long as I can see the light.

All I ask
Don't tell anybody the secrets
I told you.

I said "Mama, he's crazy and he scares me
But I want him by my side
though he's wild and he's bad
and sometimes just plain mad
I need him to keep me satisfied"

My Give A Damn's Busted

I got no friends 'cause they read the papers
They can't be seen with me and I'm getting shot down
And I'm feeling mean.

 I'm old enough to know better, but still too young to care.

Why is there one in every crowd, and why do I attract them?

Some rich men came and raped the land,
Nobody caught 'em
Put up a bunch of ugly boxes, and Jesus,
People bought 'em
And they called it Paradise
The place to be
They watched the hazy sun, sinking in the sea


You’re one of a dying breed who only takes what they need
And leaves the rest to the feast of the fools
When someone else along the way asks you to stop and stay
And tell them a story or two
Tell them the one about this old man from Blue River, Arizona
Who is tall and handsome in spite of his lazy eye
Never found no gold on the trail of old Coronado
Spent half of his life waiting on that quittin’ time whistle to blow

Is it too much to demand
I want a full house and a rock and roll band
Pens that won't run out of ink
And cool quiet and time to think.

Hung a sign up in our town
"If you live it up, you won't live it down"
So she left Monte Rio, son
Just like a bullet leaves a gun
With her charcoal eyes and Monroe hips
She went and took that California trip
Oh, the moon was gold, her hair like wind
Said, 'Don't look back, just come on, Jim'

When you said you’d never heard of John Prine
Well I knew right away you weren’t worth my time

And the moral of this story
Is I guess it's easier said than done
To look at what you've been through
And to see what you've become.

Quivers down my backbone
I got the shakes in the knee bones
Shivers down my thigh bones
Like I'm
Shakin' all over

I dont claim a thing
Not a two bit clue
But somebody whispered
War kills the truth
  
You wait in the car on the side of the road
Lemme go and stand awhile, I wanna know you're there but I wanna be alone
If only for a minute or two
I wanna see what it feels like to be without you

Sometimes I get upset
When people treat me bad
Don’t have time to think
So I get real mad

And you can send me dead flowers every morning
Send me dead flowers by the mail
Send me dead flowers to my wedding
And I won't forget to put roses on your grave

An old county road runs by my house and ends on the river bank
In '73 they shut the ferry down
Back up the road there's a church and a store with a bench full of lying old men
In the middle of a wide spot they call a town 
I'm just a young man living to make me old plowing these fields by the river road 
Where hopes dreams and my granddaddy lived and died 
They go as far as my eyes can see but they ain't far enough for me 
When I drive to the river and I look at the other side

I've heard that into every life
a little rain must fall.
If there's any truth to the saying,
Lord, let it be a southern rain.

Blow up your TV throw away your paper
Go to the country, build you a home
Plant a little garden, eat a lot of peaches
Try an find Jesus on your own.

Well, I sat there at the table and I acted real naive
For I knew that topless lady had something up her sleeve.

So what in the world's come over you?
What in heaven's name have you done?
You've broken the speed of the sound of loneliness
You're out there runnin'
Just to be on the run.

I'm the PATRON SAINT of the denial with an ANGEL FACE and a taste for suicidal.

I recall once upon a time,
Livin' was so easy and I felt so fine.
But, my, my, my right before my very eyes,
Satan came with fire to burn me,
Wouldn't listen when they warned me.
A dagger in my back while she's calling me honey,
Wouldn't stand back, for neither love nor money.

The hotter it is you know the hotter it gets.

Every Friday, well, that's when I get paid.
Don't take me on Friday, Lord, 'cause that's when I get paid.
Let me die on Saturday night, ooh, before Sunday gets my head.

Why don't you cash in your chips
Why don't you call it a loss
Not such a big loss
Chalk it up to better luck

This old guitar ain't mine to keep
It's mine to play for a while

To live is to fly, low and high
So shake the dust off of your wings
And the sleep out of your eyes.

Well I been drinkin' again
And I know it's a sin
But I just can't refuse an old friend
Cause life is gettin' me down
And I been two times around
And there ain't nothing but pain around the bend.

Is there anything a man don’t stand to lose,
When the devil wants to take it all away?

Clouds of myst’ry pourin’ confusion on the ground.
Good men through the ages, tryin’ to find the sun;
And I wonder, still I wonder, who’ll stop the rain.

Well you stole it 'cause I needed the cash
And you killed it 'cause I wanted revenge
Well you lied to me 'cause I asked you to
Baby, can we still be friends
  
And I been from Tucson to Tucancary, Tahathapi to Tanapall
Driven every kind of rig that's ever been made
Driven the back roads so I wouldn't get weighed.
And if you give me weed, whites, and wine
And you show me a sign
Then I'll be willing
To be moving.

I'd rather look around me -- compose a better song
'cos that's the honest measure of my worth.
In your pomp and all your glory you're a poorer man than me
as you lick the boots of death born out of fear.

May the wind take your troubles away
May the wind take your troubles away
Both feet on the floor, two hands on the wheel
May the wind take your troubles away

You took my joy   
I want it back.

I don't know what it means when he takes my pulse
And says that I'm a lot like him

Walking down Main Street getting to know the concrete
Looking for a purpose from a neon sign
I would meet you anywhere, western sun meets the air
We'll hit the road, never looking behind

Say that you were stranded on a desert island
What books you gonna bring what friends would tag along
Say you had a month and you knew you were dying
How would you spend your time
What goodbyes would take too long

Every lunatic must be well intentioned
Sets himself apart he's an instrument of God
Took her from the playground to the farmhouse cellar
Kissed her while he killed her like a good Samaritan
They finally found her body many Autumns after
Interviewed her mother who said "she'd now be 21
And although we lost her young
I know the good lord has a plan for all of us"

My father could use a little mercy now
The fruits of his labor fall and rot slowly on the ground
His work is almost over it won't be long, he won't be around
I love my father, he could use some mercy now

Drag queens in limousines
Nuns in blue jeans
Dreamers with big dreams
All took me in


Sam Stone was alone when he played his last request
Climbing walls while sitting in a chair


Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Urban Garden In The Aftermath Of The Orlando Shooting

This year's first strawberries.
It's all over my Facebook feed and all over the news--the shooting that occurred Sunday at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. And I feel totally helpless. Should I post anything on Facebook? What can I add or say that hasn't already been said? Should I record my outrage for eternity? Honestly, that's not different than clicking "like", and I'm getting tired of that pointless ritual. Sure I can write to my senators, but I already know they're pro gun control. There seems to be nothing a person can do in this country to elicit change, especially in the political process. One guy tries to blow up a plane with his shoe--his shoe!!--and suddenly we're all taking off our shoes before we board an airplane. But these massacres happen time after time after time, and nothing happens. Nothing changes in the way we buy or handle weapons. No legislation. No one is voted out of office. Nothing.

So, at least every other day I go into the garden where I can do something. In the garden, weeds are easily identified and pulled, one by one or sometimes even in handfuls. If a plant needs some special care, I can give it. I work barefoot and feel directly connected to the earth through my skin. My fingers feel so many feelings; rough sun-heated earth and firm ripe healthy fruit and I can feel pinpricks to my knees when I kneel because I'm getting too old to just bend over or squat. I know, I'm not changing the world. I'm not directly affecting human beings, except maybe this one, and maybe that's the point. When there's nothing we can do, the best thing you can do is take care of yourself so that abject feeling of helplessness doesn't eat you up. I can work there and there are no pesticides getting on our food, and when I cook and eat it and watch Sue eat it and enjoy it, I know I did that. In a small way, I helped the world become a better place.

Today when I go shopping, I'll buy flour, both bread flour and whole wheat flour, for our bread that I'll make with my own hands. I'll buy food that was raised organically and meat that raised humanely, and it will cost us more because that's the way our society is organized right now: you need more money to stay healthy and treat animals and people well, otherwise there's no profit in food and people, and I think that it's Sue who goes out to her job and works everyday, and it's not always enjoyable, but at least for her labor I can take care of us, and I give thanks for that. Not thanks to your God, not to anyone's God, but to something that I know it out there, I don't know what, but maybe someday in my life's journey I'll learn.

The front bed is responding to the rain we've had, and now the sunshine.

Already the view of the garden is starting to fill in.
The squash bed is established, and the Jerusalem artichokes are in their glory.


Either this rain barrel has a hole in it, or one night an animal came and took a long drink of water.

Potatoes are up, and the lettuce will be ready to pick soon.

Looks like tomorrow I'll be staking tomatoes.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Urban Garden Has Peppers

video


For some reason, I haven't been able to successfully grow peppers in the garden in the back here in Quincy. If any fruit did develop, it would always be small and hard and measly. It's always been kind of embarrassing. Men here, gardeners, always talk--they brag--about their "peppas." They'd grow them then "throw them on the grill" with onion for their steak tips. It was typical. I'm not a red meat guy, which always makes me suspect in the male grilling world and I certainly don't do steak tips on the grill. I'd say, save it for your Patriots tailgate party but in my 35 years living in Boston, I've been to exactly two Patriots games. My specialty is a nice, thick salmon steak slathered with mayo/lemon/fresh dill served with new potatoes in the oven, or boneless chicken thighs marinated all day in a Caribbean jerk.

I've never had trouble with peppers before. I always thought they were kind of a no-brainer kind of plant to grow. But then, when we moved to Quincy, the trouble started. Maybe peppers are the teenagers of the vegetable world, their job is to push the envelope and embarrass their parents at every turn, and I never asked to move to Quincy in the first place.

But, like teenagers, you don't give up on them.

So this year, I thought I'd give them one more chance and planted them in the a box on the porch. I found three of these boxes last spring on the curb in the garbage. They're old packing crates, and this will probably be the last season I'll get to use them. They're made of thin pine and the weather is taking its toll on them. This past winter, though, we stapled some heavy plastic over them and turned them into cold frames. With the mild winter that we had, we had fresh herbs well into January.

As you can see, the peppers are doing great. I don't know what it is. Maybe it's the intense heat they get on the porch, and the nice rich organic soil I've got them in. Maybe they're loners and introverts and just wanted space to themselves. Or maybe it's the chill environment they have, and they really love the sound of a wind chime.


Monday, June 6, 2016

The Urban Garden After Two Days Of Rain


Clothes drying on a gorgeous late spring day.
Chronicling the day-to-day of a garden is difficult, some say as interesting as watching grass grow. But there really is always something going on. Remember when I planted the seedlings and I was worried about the heat and the water? Well, so far the late spring is proving to be gorgeous. Let's hope we can have a lot of what we've had for the past couple of days, which consisted of about 24 hours of heavy downpours, giving the garden a really good soaking and filling the rain barrels, and now a few days of mild, eighty-degree days with nice puffy clouds floating in the sky. The wash is drying out on the porch. We dry our wash outside as many days as we can, including the winter. We do it because it's cheaper; we wash in cool water and we're not paying for gas to dry the clothes. The sun is a lot easier on our clothes than the dryer that beats your clothes up, so you're extending the life of your clothes. And the sun and breezes give them that outdoor smell and kind of soft and at the same time scratchy feel. If you don't understand what the garden and doing laundry has in common, I'll explain it later in another post.

So, the garden seems established. The seedlings seem to have rooted nicely. Friday was our wedding anniversary, and if you read the blog that day you'll know I get Sue irises for our anniversary every year, so they needed planting. Some of the onions are flowering, and I'm interested to see what they'll be like. Onions are bi-annuals, which means they need two seasons to seed. Once they seed it's too late to use the bulb, but I've heard the flowers are good to eat, so I'm excited to watch these grow.

Last week I noticed a widow-maker up in a tree in our neighbor's yard. I kept an eye on it, not wanting to be anywhere near it when it came down. I told my neighbor, Tom, about it, and there wasn't much he could do short of calling an emergency tree service. Thursday night around 10:30 Sue got a call to go out on the hotline (Sue occasionally works the after-hours emergency hotline.) She had just left the apartment and I had come into the office at the front of the house and put on some headphones and started to watch a movie when I heard a rumble. I immediately called Sue and when she asked what I wanted I said I just wanted to hear her voice. It turns out the limb had fallen, and I actually heard it in front of the house with headphones on. It was just dumb luck that Tom or no one esle in his family were in the yard, because there wouldn't have been any warning. In a vacuum, this limb would have fallen at 186,000 miles per second. Here on earth, it would have been slower, but not much.

Irises waiting to go onto the ground.
Onions starting to flower. The flowers are supposed to be pretty tasty.
Well, let's look on the bright side: Tom has a nice load of firewood to sell.
The 40-foot limb just cracked off under its own weight and from the rot of the trunk.
Another bunch of irises added to the garden.

Friday, June 3, 2016

On The Occasion Of Our Three Year Wedding Anniversary

Three years ago today Sue and I eloped in the little town of Silverton, Colorado. Three years isn't a long time to be married. I know people half my age who have been married longer, have bought houses, and have little ones. Other couples are married for 60 years or more. I guess in that regard Sue and I are just kids.

This morning at breakfast--Sue and I usually have coffee together every morning when we talk, and if we can, we also eat breakfast together--Sue asked me if it seemed like three years had passed. My first reaction was that it seems longer, but I knew that response wasn't exactly what I was trying to say. I thought for a second or two longer, and clarified my thoughts, that it seemed longer because when I look back I don't see our wedding as the start of our lives together, but when we first met. That's 10 years ago when we met in the Holliston Town Hall for a community theater production of The Vagina Monologues. I think it's hilarious that I met the love of my life at a production of The Vagina Monologues, and if you don't see the humor in that, it's just one more reason I'm happy I'm not waking up next to you every morning. Sue and I both think that the way we met is hilarious.

If you marry a writer, you're going to get written into stories, and in Highland Center, Indiana I wrote a couple of lines about that. Sue is in no way the Alice Anne in the story, but I needed something to show how much JP loved her from the start:

"Your mom was the prettiest thing I ever saw. First time I ever laid eyes on her she was wearing this old barn coat. I turned around fast because I didn’t want her seeing me with my jaw hitting the floor."

Those three lines are exactly how it happened. She was late arriving, and she was wearing an old barn coat that belonged to her dad. And I thought she looked gorgeous. 

At some point in those seven years leading up to our wedding the idea of marriage began to creep into our minds for any number of reasons. Even people like Sue and me, who like to live as far on the edge of society as we can, still think about society and our place in it, but at the same time we certainly were not going to entertain society condoning our relationship. I know at times we discussed exactly the way gays discussed the topic of either of us being admitted into a hospital and the other couldn't make decisions for the patient. We probably would have both been perfectly happy living the way we were if it weren't for the legalities that might cause us problems down the road. Marriage, in our society, is a civil right. I respect everyone's choice when it comes to religion and morals, but I'm more like the French in that I don't believe they have any place in civil matters.

Of course when you decide to get married people have all kinds of advice for you. Sue and I stuck to our guns of wanting a wedding that was for us, good advice I like to pass along to young people when they're getting married and their families are forcing every whim on them. I bought Sue an engagement ring (I was working just long enough to be able to afford one before I was laid off from that job--the ups and down of marrying a writer) and proposed to her in a restaurant in Boston, just to make things "official." We did it because we loved each other and it was kind of fun to flirt with traditions. I bought a wedding band for her, and we carried that around for awhile, trying to figure out when we'd actually get to use it. We somehow envisioned finding a little adobe church in New Mexico where we could tie the knot, mostly because I think that's where friends of ours got married. But New Mexico wasn't doing it for us, and when we crossed over the border into Colorado things started to click. In Colorado you marry yourself. You don't need a priest, minister, rabbi, or justice of the peace. You literally marry each other. We went backpacking in the backcountry of the Rockies for a few days, came out dirty and dusty, and in pairs of old jeans and hiking boots, we were married by the town clerk of Silverton, Colorado. (I did, however, buy a new shirt; Sue wore the t-shirt she had been hiking in.) The town clerk was wearing a Colorado Rockies baseball jersey, and had to call another woman into the office to fix the computer who woke up her kids from their naps because "two people from Boston want to get married." We spent the rest of the day mooching free drinks around town, had dinner of fresh trout in a restaurant that had more dead animal heads on the wall than patrons at the tables, and spent the night in a former whorehouse. 

Both of our fathers' favorite flowers were irises, so every year now I've been buying Sue irises to plant in the garden. Some day when we move there will be patches of irises in remembrance for Warren and JP here in Quincy. We thought about going out tonight, but we're happier staying home. I'm making chicken cacciatore, something we both like. There's a really good bottle of an Italian red waiting for us, and afterwards we'll probably each enjoy a cigar on the porch. Yeah, she likes cigars. See why I fell in love with her? 

Making it official.
The wedding party.
Melva, one of the many people who gave us free drinks.
The Wyman Hotel
The official wedding picture.
 




 


Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Why Make A Garden...For Free?

A perfectly delightful little patch of urban heaven.
When I talk about gardening, I tend to use the countrified term, "making a garden," instead of using what I was taught was the more citified way of speaking, "planting a garden." I talk in the old-fashioned vernacular on purpose, and I do it for the same reason I still haven't expunged the word, "ain't", from my vocabulary. Using "make" for "plant" is just one more example of how gardening connects me to my roots in the country. And if I didn't continue to use that language--e.g. I ain't makin' a garden for nothing--or perform certain acts, which could only in certain ways be called sacramental, like continuing to use a double-edge razor like my father used to feel connected to him, I would be, in the words of Malcolm X, metaphorically cutting out my own tongue.

So I ask the question, Why would you make a garden for free? Why would you make a garden on a piece of property that wasn't yours, paying for it in quite a few hundred hard dollars and hours of sweat equity? I kept asking myself those questions as Sue and I worked the little plot of ground in front of the house where we rent in Quincy, Massachusetts, when the landlord and his brother won't even stoop to pull a weed. Am I some kind of chump? And, just like a lot of other answers I've stumbled upon, it came to me while I was sweating and chopping and bent over, my back aching, while planting because gardening for me is meditation and yoga combined.

Bottom line: I was raised to believe that every person in the world should accept an opportunity presented to them to make the world a better place. See, just like everything, it goes back to my southern/Midwestern roots. Sometimes making the world better means simply smiling at someone on the subway who clearly is having a bad day. How hard is it to smile? It might mean handing out your last dollar to a homeless person. But sometimes it gets a lot harder, and I'm not saying making a garden is the ultimate sacrifice. On the scale of smiling on the subway being at one end and giving someone a kidney being on the other end, I'd say a garden is still pretty low on the continuum. But in this age when giving a "like" and a "share" on Facebook now seem to be the benchmark for social activism (click a button and keep scrolling; you've done your part) getting your hands dirty amounts to some serious responsible behavior. However, in all honesty, if I had known how much money it would take--upwards of $400 plus--to complete this project, I might have balked. Still, I was aware this wasn't going to come cheap, and I still went ahead with it.

And there it was: Sue and I were presented with the opportunity to make the house where we live a little more pleasant for all of the people who live here, and also, let's not forget, the people who would pass by on the way to and from work. They could use a little cheering up, too. It's not that we felt we didn't have the option to say, no; it was more seeing a job that needed getting done, and we were the only ones who could (or would) do it. I think we understood the possibility better than some.

"To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived--that is to have succeeded."  --Ralph Waldo Emerson

Our landlords, John and Steve, know nothing about growing plants. The proverbial green thumb? In their cases, they don't even have thumbs, much less thumbs of another color. They couldn't tell crabgrass from pachysandra, and honestly, they don't want to know. They watched with amazement as their weed patch of a front yard turned into what I would call a perfectly delightful little patch of urban heaven. For me, it was like being a cook and watching people enjoy a meal. I took delight in their delight.

 People who we didn't know, people who we've seen but never spoken to, would stop and comment and chat as we worked. It seems the front yard project became something of a topic of conversation for the neighborhood. I'll be watching, said one woman, an Asian who's first language wasn't English, meaning she'll be looking forward to what grows. A neighbor across the street, the wife in an older couple who have a pristine, Chem-Lawn lawn, actually flagged me down and stopped me while I was driving to compliment us on the front yard. In truth, the yard was a bit of a blight on the neighborhood, and I think there is a collective feeling of ownership, not only when something isn't looking good, but also when things are looking up.

And, of course, there were quite a few people who, when they learned we didn't own the house and no, we weren't getting reimbursed for the materials and labor, looked at us oddly and sometimes teased us and sometimes downright belittled us. Well, I hope your landlord appreciates you, said one, in a tone that suggested she never believed our landlord would appreciate us and we were simpletons to believe that he would. The answer that we were simply making the world a better place was, at times, greeted with  bemusement, in the way idealistic hippies were addressed for believing there could be peace in the world. Ours is a transactional world, and quid pro quo is expected.

So, there is a 15 x 15 foot plot of ground in Quincy, Massachusetts that is a little better today than it was yesterday. And I think there are a few people who are also. At the risk of sounding like the idealistic hippie that I once was and probably still am, if everyone in the world took 225 square feet and improved it, well, that would go a long way in making the world better for all of us.


The day after a storm. We have two full rain barrels. A barrel of water doesn't last that long during a hot summer. Let's keep praying for rain.

Coincidentally, irises were both Sue's and my father's favorite flowers, so for a few of our past anniversaries I've been giving Sue irises for the garden. See how a garden can reach back to your family's roots and make your life so much richer?






Friday, May 27, 2016

Urban Garden Front Yard Project Complete

Completed front yard.
It was a pretty simple project to complete once we figured out what we really wanted to do. Yesterday I picked up two barrels of organic soil at Thayer Nursery. The price of soil had gone up to $20 per barrel--no surprise there; I don't know too many things of which the price goes down--but it's still a great deal. It's $20, no matter the size of the barrel, so of course I bring the biggest barrels I have, and if a little more soil drops into the bed of the pickup when I back it into the pile, well, so be it. Thayer gets the material for its compost from, among other places, the dining halls at Harvard University, so we're looking at some really smart compost.

Two trays of pachysandra were the perfect number. Empty the barrels, plant the ground cover. Sue added a birth bath, which is a really sweet idea. We feed the birds in the winter, and we've noticed they seem to feel this is a safe haven for them. Some of the little sparrows are getting comfortable enough around us that they come within a few feet of us. You want to attract as much wildlife as you can to your garden including birds, bees, and insects (the good kind, like butterflies) and do your part in keeping the biosystem humming.

We decided to keep the dead trunk of the dogwood intact because it would leave a visible hole in the yard. Instead we're going to watch it for decay and rot and cross that bridge when we get there.

I think for my next post I'm going to address why even take on these projects? Why build a garden at your own expense on someone else's property? I think there are some very good reason.

Hot, smelly organic soil. The really good stuff. Thayer Nursery gets the material for its compost from, among other places, the dining halls at Harvard University. This is some really smart compost.

Twenty bucks a barrel.

Here's the bare spot we're going to fill with organic soil and grow ground cover.

A nice thick layer of organic material.

Pachysandra added in rows, spaced evenly apart.

The coup de resistance: a hanging bird bath.

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