Friday, September 30, 2016

The Values of Good Editing

When writing, I've always preferred to pour out all my random thoughts on the topic then edit down to a tighter, cohesive narrative.  Before computers allowed me to drag, drop, and delete items at will, I employed an old screenwriters' trick using 3 x 5 index cards.  Each thought was written on its own card, then cards were shuffled and swapped around until my story found a pleasing flow.  Once that outline was in place, I would get to work fleshing out the little details and bits of color that made it interesting while also getting rid of things that no longer worked.

I realize this technique isn't unique to me.  However, what's painfully obvious is the number of people who release their thoughts to the world immediately after the initial pouring out stage.  They skip, or find unnecessary,  the all important next step of editing out the superfluous.  As a lover of the well-turned phrase, rare word, or even a tidy absence of grammatical errors, it's easy for me to find fault.  I'll go so far as to admit to some harsh judgment on my part.
 
Imagine my discomfort then to find a good edit was called for in my own back yard.  Literally.  And no, I'm not using literally when I mean figuratively.  It's actually the garden behind my house, that planted collection visible from my back door, that's in need of editing.   For years I've been plopping plants into the soil anywhere I found a space big enough to handle one more rootball.   After one too many mild winters collided with an increasing amount of sheer horticultural luck, those green chickens have come home to roost.  It's clearly time to drag, drop, dig up, and delete.

A recent visit to my friend Pam Penick's garden was a delightful reminder of the importance of inspired design and the value of blank space.  Her garden features many of the same plants I grow, but there is clearly a design at work, a strong outline.  Plants are visible, not swallowed by a neighbor in some botanical version of a doomsday novel.  They shine in their chosen placement, not merely bear up under their circumstances like a Dickens character.   Small unplanted spaces provide restful punctuation and framing.  And on more than one occasion, I've heard Pam say a plant was removed (gasp!) when it failed in the larger design narrative.  Wow.

So here is my commitment.   I will step back and employ my inner editor.  She will be harsh and at times severe.  Hopefully, she will improve the story I'm trying to tell by clearing out that which no longer serves it.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

More Grows in a Garden ...

This is short, but something I really felt a need to share.  There's a delightful Spanish dicho I've been thinking a lot about recently - ""En un jardín crecen más cosas que las que siembra el jardinero."  It's generally translated as "more grows in a garden than a gardener sows."



What unexpected thing has been growing in my garden?  
Surprise.
  Really.  
"Surprise" as the noun rather than as startling exclamatory statement as you're jumping out from behind the sofa when someone's not expecting a party.  Or maybe it's a feeling better described as wonder, or delight. 
 


It's discovering a bloom, or a tiny lizard, a brief cooling shower, or a trio of migrating Indigo Bunting eating seedheads.  It sounds silly, but as I slowly molt into an old, wrinkled crone, surprise and delight are valuable commodities that keep me young in spirit.  Far too many things threaten to drag me into a pit of cynicism and irritation, even without our current political cycle of rancor and ignorance.  (See?  That was the cynical crone creeping in again.)



So as I wander my little urban garden, it's medicinal.  Wonder and delight are restored.
When you go outside, what makes you feel like a kid again?

All material © 2008 - 2016 by Vicki Blachman for Playin' Outside.
 Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Post or Perish


At the last Garden Bloggers Fling  in Toronto, many friends said they'd like to hear more from me.  I duly vowed to post more, then did.  Unfortunately, it was all on Facebook leaving my poor blog withering away.  Appropriate metaphor for a gardening blog is all I can say in my defense.  Those tiny effortless posts on Facebook of "today's garden surprise" allowed me to share the small, unremarkable events that delight me and keep me gardening.  Truth is, nothing major has really transpired out in my playground - no major weather events, no big projects or changes in design, not even a thorough application of compost.  Yet after eight years of Playin' Outside, I somehow find myself unable to stop posting and simply walk away.

It seems as if I've been waiting for something "noteworthy" to do a blog post.  Instead, I'm going to recreate some of the past year's delights here.  I sincerely hope you enjoy them.

Perhaps one significant change is my decision to move away from growing tropical milkweed, or at the very least, a renewed vow to cut it to the ground in September.  As it's naturalized to a degree, a lot of work would be needed to eradicate it entirely from the garden.   However, it does seem to encourage migrating Monarch butterflies to hang around and breed rather than continue their journey to Mexico for the winter.  If Central Texas gets a harsh winter, that new generation is then lost and the energy reserves the adults needed for migration were wasted in reproducing.  So here's to supporting the native Asclepias, a large and varied family.  They've come and gone with the seasons as long as the Monarchs have depended on them.  Go to Monarch Watch or any number of other online resources to find what's native to your region and start propagating those varieties.  
Ill fated Monarch cat on Asclepias curassavica
in November

Queen cat on Asclepias oenotheroides (Zizotes milkweed.)

Bees, butterflies, and the occasional bird continue to be the primary focus of my garden.  It's nice to have found a particular passion so that there are at least a few filters to my plant purchases.
The new Bumble house - "Beehenge"

The new Bumblebee house, dubbed "Beehenge" due to its stone enclosure, was finally installed in the garden after traveling around with me a bit as a teaching aid.  Can you see it in the photo above?  The entrance is almost dead center behind the clump of skullcap and guara.  The well thought out wooden structure was built by Nurturing Nature in the UK.  Stone enclosure not included ;-)  It features a flat, red, lucite lid under the wooden roof that allows observation of the nest without disturbing the bees and a wonderful flap door the bees actually learn to open.  Surrounding it with stones had several purposes.  It's intended to keep it warmer in winter, cooler in summer, and protected from elements.  The entrance faces the sun so it's warmed in the mornings.  And as bumbles are known to favor burrows left by rodents, the nest attempts to mimic that environment.  

And finally, a lifelong goal was achieved when my husband and I visited Charlottesville, VA.  I'm a bit of a history junkie, so wandering the grounds of Monticello was surprisingly moving.  I've seen that iconic view of the kitchen gardens below Mulberry Row a thousand times over the years, but standing on the rise above and taking my own version of the photo almost brought me to tears.  Weird, I know.  

Iconic view finally captured in person
We were also able to make the drive to Green Bank, WV, that takes you through a number of Civil War sites.  We were headed out to stay at the NRAO facility, and thought traveling the steep terrain through the mountain switchbacks was tough enough with a car and in beautiful, mild weather.  It certainly brought home how physically difficult those years must have been - beyond the emotional toll and regardless of the side for which you fought.  It's a sobering period of our national history, but what a beautiful part of our country!

Seneca Rocks, WV
 I'd love to hear what changes or delights the past year brought to your garden.  Please let me hear from you.

All material © 2008 - 2016 by Vicki Blachman for Playin' Outside.
 Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.