05 May 2009

On Garden Making

I once read about a garden designer whose M.O. was to visit a client's garden and sit in it for several hours before she ever put graphite to paper. The goal was to get a feel for the place - the sounds, smells, light, breezes, to listen to what the land was saying. The message, once deciphered, would help inform the ultimate design of the garden. I also read somewhere that when you move to a new home, you shouldn't do anything in the garden for a year, in order to see what might come up through the seasons.


This year, not only am I faced with a new home located in a completely foreign (to me) climate, I’m also the proud owner of a naked plot of earth that is mine to cultivate into a riot of floral and vegetable lovliness. I thought of trying the designer's method of sitting in the soon-to-be-garden and contemplating it, seeking 'the genius of the place' as some of my former Landscape Architect acquaintences would put it, but when I did all I could see were the ranks of hulking compost storage containers at the far end of the field. "Well, that was genius" kept creeping in and stealing my concentration.

In the end I decided to keep it simple: one square raised bed planted alternately with red onion, basil, and parsley, punctuated by the cool rusted rebar espalier sculpture which will find new purpose as a tomato support. The other beds are simple rectangles bisected by mulched paths. Laying them out was a highly technical and precise operation in measurement. I could tell you my secret but then I’d have to feed you an Amanita phalloides.

Oh, alright. Since you ask so nicely (she leans in conspiratorially, stealing quick glances over both shoulders to make sure no one is watching her type). I took a steel rake, stood roughly in the middle of the plot and scraped a line down the center, marking the edges with lengths of bamboo. Path. Setting the rake parallel to the path and counting the footprint (or rakeprint) three times equals the width of the bed. More bamboo. Another raked line perpendicular to the first, more bamboo, and voila! another path. And so on until my plot is a celebration of Nicholsian* madness, perforated with little sticks of bamboo and darker swaths that will become paths.
Highly technical and precise. Don't get me started on the military operations that will encompass weed abatement.

The next step will be to mulch the paths, eradicate the weeds, compost the beds, and plant my cool season crops in time for Mother Nature to water them in. Then, as it thunders without, I’ll be cozily ensconced within, drooling over catalogs and taking notes from the two newest additions to my veg growing library: Carrots Love Tomatoes and Square Foot Gardening.

*A reference to one of my favorite garden writers, Beverley Nichols, who used a similar technique to mark the placement of trees in his garden.

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