Summer Hiroshima Moon
“Dreams pass into the reality of action. From the action stems the dream again; and this interdependence produces the highest form of living.” – Anais Nin
Horticulture. When we moved in here now 18 years ago, we decided to spend money upfront on landscaping, figuring we could enjoy it over the life of our tenancy rather than putting in as an amenity at the time of a sale. We hired a landscape architect from Otten Brothers and he put in a basic plan. Two wild prairie patches on either side of a manicured lawn. Norway pines, a spruce or two, some amur maples, a genus maple, an oak, some river birch. Near the house he put on narrow beds planted with shrubs like euonymus, a dwarf lilac, shrub roses, viburnum among others.
A boulder retaining wall in the front shored up a long bed like a peninsula into the green ocean of our yard. In the back we had them cut a three tiered garden, each tier marked off with boulder retaining walls and divided near the house by steps made of rail-road tie size square lumber.
The rest of our property, all now that is our “backyard”, was part woods and part scrubland covered with black locust trees, thorny and not visually appealing though very good for fence posts. The first two years after our move I spent cutting down trees, using a commercial wood-chipper to grind them up and hiring a stump-grinder to come in and rid us of the stumps. The scrubland became, gradually, a place where we could build a shed, plant a vegetable garden and I dreamed of making it an expanse of prairie, as I had wanted to do with the entire property when we moved.
Jon, now in Denver, built us a second garden shed nearer the house and a large fence around the area in which we tried various methods of growing vegetables and flowers, none of them a real success.
After a while, I asked Jon to build us some raised beds, anticipating the period in which we are now, with backs not as amenable to stoop labor. Even then, with the fence and the raised beds, I still focused on flowers, while Kate grew some vegetables.
5 or 6 years ago, around the time Kate and I attended a conference in Iowa city on environmental topics, the notion of permaculture come to my attention. It was a new idea to me, but essentially an Australian elaboration on organic farming. It was, however, quite an elaboration. In its full blown realization permaculture is a design philosophy that attempts to recreate the diversity and interdependence of a nature, but with elements tilted toward human survival needs.
Far too complicated for us to realize without help, we hired the design/build firm Ecological Gardens. They designed a plan for us that began with the installation of an orchard in the area I had originally seen as prairie. They prepared the area and planted the orchard late one fall. The next year they came out and did some peripheral work.
In another bit of work later on they added plantings and other features to the vegetable garden area and did some work out front, too. Not all of it was successful, but the two important projects, the orchard and the work in the vegetable garden have been wonderful.
Now, 4 or 5 years later, we have fruit beginning to come with some regularity: cherries, currants, gooseberries, apples, pears, plums and blueberries. The orchard reaches its full potential gradually. The vegetable garden produces food for us that we eat over the summer, then can, freeze, pickle or dry for the winter months.
Kate weeds and does the canning, freezing and drying. I take responsibility for planting, thinning and caring for the vegetables until they’re in the kitchen. We added bees to the mix four years ago and I do all the beekeeping except the honey harvest during which Kate plays a critical role.
Over time we’ve honed the mix of vegetables we grow to suit our eating. Now we focus on beets, greens, potatoes, tomatoes, asparagus, garlic, peppers, onions and leeks. Between the vegetables and the fruit we produce pies, pot pies, jellies, canned tomatoes, dried fruit, crushed garlic. We use the wild grapes that grow on our front fence for a wonderful grape jelly.
The land and the plants tell us where things will grow and how we need to shift them. The gooseberries, for example, got planted in too much shade and had to be moved to the light. We had to plant potatoes outside the vegetable garden because the colorado beetles had found them. The eastern half of the tiered flower garden is now in shade and requires shade loving plants. The whole changes from year to year, just as it does from season to season.