Sun Ra - Column for 5/13

The Iron Fist of Botany

I love gardening. I really do. I'm not sure why, but it is almost certainly due to a large number of factors. It allows one to impose a sort of order on an otherwise chaotic world. (Or, in the case of some regions, to bring life to an otherwise barren world.) There are, maybe, every now and then, the epicurean results of tasty vegetables and fruits, if the locusts don't swarm and the slugs don't rise. And there's the sense of power it gives - these plants go here, and these plants go there, and these other plants must DIE!

Which is why I refer to my garden-grubbing as 'the iron fist of botany'. Because, in truth, you can't make anything grow. You can only encourage it. But you can certainly prevent things from growing. You can prune, and weed, and tie, and spindle and mutilate plants until your garden looks the way you like it. Maybe. But if the plants don't grow of their own volition, you are out of luck. You can only ruthlessly bend the garden to your will - the actual to-grow-or-not-to-grow is out of your hands.

It's certainly out of my hands. I spaded up several areas that were formerly weeds masquerading as lawn, and planted a variety of seeds therein. What I didn't realize is that the soil here is, basically, adobe, and after a rain and a little sun was impenetrable to .30-06 rifle shots, much less tomato seeds. So only the big, powerful seeds (beans and sunflowers) came up, and this last weekend I dug a lot of little holes and put in seedlings. Hey, at least I'm not behind.

I prefer to grow plants from seed - although, as an amateur gardener at best, I realize that some seeds actually do just as well or better planted as seedlings. But most plants do better without any sort of transplanting. The zinnias and marigolds in the front yard, now about an inch tall, are full of promise. The seedling marigolds I put in for some immediate gratification will never get much larger, but the ones growing from seed should reach a nice small bush size. If the squirrels don't get 'em.

Another problem with gardening, I discover, is regionalism. Maryland has proven quite a learning experience in new gardening issues. Squirrels, for one thing, which randomly dig up your yard and destroy seedlings. My appreciation for the furry little fuckers is diminishing rapidly each time they kill a precious baby zinnia in a fruitless quest for a nut that was never there.

Another issue is simply timing. In California, if you plant something in March, it will grow. Here you have to wait until late April or early May, which really got under my skin. I could feel the weeds getting a head start as the weather warmed up. And it rains here, too... a lot. To me, rain is for the winter. In the summer, you have to irrigate. And it's not that you don't have to water out here. Oh no. That would be too easy. You have to pay attention and water only if they need it. You can't just set the drip irrigation to fire off twice a week.

But, to return to the main theme, I really love gardening. I can't wait to have my own house (we're renting a house at present) so that I can engage in real, serious gardening. Where to put the gazebo and/or the koi pond. Where to plant long-term plants like trees and, um, other sorts of trees. Where to have garden (everywhere) and where to have lawn (whatever bits are left over).

It's probably in my blood. My grandparents, when they retired, ran a Christmas tree farm for twenty years. And you know what? That sounds like a fun thing to do when you retire. And I know how much work it entails - the hills both here and in California are littered with abandoned Christmas tree farms ("You just plant 'em and in December, people pay you! Hyuk!") which attest to the rather more significant workload they entail. But it still sounds like fun. I mean, even now, I wander outside sometimes several times a day to look at my plants.

And make sure they are behaving.

- Sun Ra

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