Friday, March 18, 2016

Humus & Soil Science; Or Dirty Hands & A Light Heart

I am teaching a soils class at a local school. Jr high/high school age; it is fun. 
The sea of blank stares that met my lecture on adhesion & cohesion has transformed into curiosity; they are asking questions, interested questions, and yesterday we went outside of the school property to collect a soil sample from the banks of a nearby creek. Which always counts for something. 
And such a relief to finally be beyond the hope of being found cool by the younger generation. I am just an old lady with dirt on her hands, gesticulating madly over the compost bins, straw & composty bits in my hair. 

This is a classical, Christian academy, so I can veer off into theology & poetry at will (which is all I really want to do anyway.)

I've been thinking so much about humus. Not hummus, the Middle Eastern spread (I'm always thinking about hummus in some regard or another, usually it's "Exactly how long til I am next eating hummus?")

I want to talk to my students about humus, and not just its scientific definition & role in holding the soils of the planet together. I want them to know that the word humus comes from the same root as human, humility, & homage. That though the life of the soil is unseen, it is essential to our entire planet's survival. That though humility & honoring others above ourselves (giving them homage) is not acclaimed or lauded or seen as successful, these little acts hold us all together, and grows the higher acts of love & courage & generosity in a world that has grown cold, whose heart-soil is barren.

Eventually, (if the metaphor will hold together,) It will be the humble humus-y hearts of rich soil that will sustain a forest of world changers.

Suddenly "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth" takes on a whole new meaning. 

(Thanks you, Luci Shaw-for pointing out this word play in her beautiful book, "Water My Soul".
Well done, and I love your work!)

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

It's hard to believe that the garden is really mine. I have been hankering after a larger piece of earth to call my own for quite some time now, and as I look out onto the bowl-shaped garden,  I am fairly giddy as I mutter to myself & sketch phantom flower beds with my hands. "Penstemon 'Apple Blossom' over there, beside the Abraham Darby rose," I gesture, "And the Viburnum opulus 'Roseum' over there, above the native lupines & poppies." I must look like a crazy lady to the neighbors.

I have a plant crush on v. o. 'Roseum, which grows 10-12 ft high, with a graceful, rounded form and masses of snowball-like flowers, creamy white tinged with a rosy flush. Strong arching branches with brilliant crimson sugar maple-shaped leaves in fall. It is a delightfully old-fashioned plant, reminiscent of Victorian ladies' nosegays. I've planted mine at the top of the bowl looking into the garden, like a benevolent old governess, benignly nodding over her charges.  I can't wait to line jam jars full of them on my kitchen windowsill.

We're dealing with exceedingly poor soil up here in the Zayante sandhills. We have been amending things like crazy but the sandy soil seems to be sucking in organic matter by the wheelbarrow load and spitting back streams of dust. It's a little discouraging. I'm going to be relying heavily on the native salvias, buckeyes & the fabulous  California fuchsia (Zauschesneria californica)  to get things started out there, as well as lashings of compost & leaf mulch purloined from the wildy bits on the edge of the property.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Post the First

Opening the Garden Chronicles
The house was built in 1927 in the New England salt box style, (the original owners were from the east coast.) I've walked/jogged past this house for 15 years, admiring it-surrounded as it is by oaks, set back from the road, big and rambling. I never imagined that someday I would be the one on the other side of the property line, waving and hallooing at the walkers/joggers going by. Amazing.
Because of the age and legacy of the house there is a real feeling of stewardship as I undertake to make a new garden here. We are situated in a unique environment, in the Zayante sand hills of the Santa Cruz Mountains, and our new garden hosts a fabulous line-up from the California native Hall of Fame.
Quercus agricifolia (live oak), rhamnus californica (coffeeberry), heteromeles arbutifolia (toyon) and pinus californica (Ponderosa pine), Arctostaphylos manzanita (common manzanita). I am so glad to be working with all of you!
The Good The Bad And The Ugly (Bergenia & Camelia, I'm Talking About You)
In this case not much has been done with the garden, some Aaron's beard (a ground cover hypericum) and ivy beneath the many oaks, as well as toyons and coffeeberry as understory, and a lot of straggly bay laurels that I swiftly removed, since they are known to be a vector for Sudden Oak Death. A sweet surprise was a carpenteria californica, the California bush anemone, which is beautiful & hard to find. I scoured native nurseries in several counties looking for this plant when I was planting out our church's native garden, and there were none to be found. And there it was, waiting for me at our new house!
  However, most of the existing plantings are garden fails in my book. Places like the path above will just be ripped out, so I am ignoring all the unlovely ivy and flabby-leaved bergenia.That's the lettucey looking ground cover in the foreground. I know everyone's got a different idea of what looks good, but if they put bergenia in this category, they are wrong.
And the odd, crooked small tree you see in the photo above? An aged camelia, which should have been staked when it was young. Camelias can live as long as 600 years, which is almost 3 times as old as my nation. But this sad crooked specimen will not live out the summer. The adjacent porch is being widened and so out it must come-prune it with a spade! I contemplated transplanting it, in order to preserve some of the legacy of the house but it will be a beastly pain so I don't think I will. Besides, a leaning lollipop tree? I think I'll try taking some cuttings instead and see what takes root.....

The Paths And Some Cranky Squirrels
There are a couple different paths that lead up to the house, lit by lamps atop red, lichen-covered poles. The paths are slightly meandering, and I'm not sure if the intent was to allow for a gradual reveal of the house through the trees or to accommodate the many oaks growing on either side of the approach. The garden has a park-like feeling, I want to refer to it as "The Grounds". Partly because of the paths/lamps, and the size, which is 5/8 of an acre. Much larger than my last garden, which was a postage stamp of an acre.
All of the paths need to be replaced, this will happen towards the end of the remodel process, probably in June of this year. Which is great, because they are becoming treacherously crumbly and moss-strewn. The downside to this is that I must wait until the hardscaping is in place before I plant out these areas, and as they are in the flattest, sunniest, primo gardening areas, there is a lot of the garden that I can not work on. So I am  focussing of transplanting all the shade plants from my old garden here. Thankfully it is only a block or two away. Hydrangeas, rhodies, deciduous azaleas. It is such a relief to get them up here, I spent last summer trying to keep them shaded after we lost a huge oak to Sudden Oak Death. It was like losing a friend. We're moving back down there in a couple months while we remodel up here, so I will again wake up each day beside a big space in the sky where my oak used to live, sheltering, shading and embracing us. Giving us branches through which to see the rest of the world, a place for squirrels to perform acrobatics and scold us with their swishing bushy tails and indignant glares. ("Really! I'm not watching where you put your nuts! Just chill!") There's not as many cranky squirrels up at here at Oakmantle, come to think of it.....maybe it's the preponderance of oaks, or something in the coffeeberries?

As seen through the kitchen window: an onion skin missive from my eldest.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Watch This Space

More to come, but first I have to go have a picnic with a 3 yr old. You understand.