I know next to nothing about gardening. Every Spring I skim garden blogs and whatever books people lend me, throw seeds into the ground and hope for the best. In Portland, Oregon, this was a hugely successful strategy: a plot of lazily shovel-turned yard produced insane veggies and flowers with some basic hosing off during dry weeks and pulling the most obnoxious weeds now and then. I had to beat the garden back by August, and a wall of giant sunflowers began to topple like drunken soldiers. In Reno, the sandy, high desert ground easily produced smallish tomatoes and carrots but needed careful planning for shade and water. In Tucson, nothing took. Raised beds produced fruited flowers that were all quickly devoured by bugs and birds. Hanging planters were similarly gobbled up by dehydrated flying creatures as soon as any juicy bits developed. The parched environment consumed everything.
I don’t particularly want to “study” gardening, preferring to learn by experiments, necessity, failures and osmosis. The Farmer’s Almanac is my favorite source of information about growing things, even if reading it often seems like sitting around a campfire when a deranged-looking person walks up into the light from some neighboring camp, asks if they can join you for a spell, then spins the night into weirdness with a series of personal folklore yarns before disappearing back into the smoke. Today, for example, the Almanac offers this advice: “If the points of a new moon are up, then, as a rule, no rain will fall that quarter of the moon ; a dull, pale moon, dry, with halo, indicates poor crops. In the planting season no grain must be planted when halo is around the moon. -Apache Indians.” Take that to the bank. There is a ton of actual information about gardening there if you choose to look at it. Do so. I’m just grousing, because sometimes I spend an hour reading about cherry tomatoes, but then hate myself for not just being outside on dewy hands and knees whispering sweet nothings to my seedlings knowing that in my heart this is actually the best way to make them grow up to be big and strong. “You can do it little dude!” Plus only planting them when there’s no halo around the new moon and the tips are down. But everyone knows this.
When moving into an unknown territory the rules are: Take note; Observe and report; Remain neutral; Do no harm; Shut your mouth and open your eyes; Make no judgements. And then, when the texture of the landscape has revealed itself to you, Find Your Place. So when the masses of brown tangles in my new yard began to turn green in late Spring, I did not interfere. I set the sprinkler timer to run just as Magical Realist and By Owner had instructed. I edged, a bit. I kicked mulch back into the areas where it seemed like it was meant to be. I watched things grow and generally stayed out of their way. Chaos ensued, but a sort of magical chaos. Fruits and flowers appeared overnight. Grasses shot both up and outward, expanding their territories. Perennial ground cover that was dormant and dead-looking woke up and poked out from under winter brambles.
Even with a primitive horticultural vocabulary I could identify the Yarrow, the Mulberry, the Creeping Charlie and Dandelion, Lavender, Salvia and Catmint, various sages, Iris and Tulip, Lily and Crocus. Other unknowns crowded around these and sometimes choked them out. Creeping ground vines crept. Grass came in, although in lumpy patches, not a smooth putting-green lawn. I kept an eye on outright malicious growth, trying to keep peace where it seemed intervention was kindly. In the Xeri-garden area, for example, some type of intentionally planted tall green bushy plants decided to stage a coup, and I decided to pull the ones that threatened to grow taller than my eye could see over. Where there was once a garden, Bermuda and other malicious grasses came up in literal waves, swaying in the wind and rolling further and further into new shores. I watched, made mental notes, formed sketchy plans for restructuring. This thing that had been created with good intentions was on the very edge of going completely out of control and taking over neighboring yards. It was chaotic and wonderful to watch.