Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Grow West Young Man

Recently we spent two weeks in northern New Mexico, the first week in Santa Fe house-sitting for friends one of whom (Joa) happens to be a Master Gardener - something it might not be real easy to be in that part of the country.

For example, while we were out west the Santa Fe newspaper reported that the year-to-date rainfall for that area had gone up from 1.44 to 1.46 inches. By contrast, at home during those two weeks we acquired about four and one half inches of additional precipitation in our own front yard rain gauge.

(As I reread the above sentences I find it interesting that I refer to our local precipitation in approximate terms whereas the Santa Fe-ans celebrate the arrival of two hundredths of an inch or rain.)

By itself that should have told me that there were significant differences between gardening in the northeast and in the southwest - but that realization didn't begin to sink in until I was about halfway through cutting the fourteen days worth of grass that had grown in my yard. And it continued to develop as I completed my traditional Memorial day vegetable and annual plantings, and then got back into what has become, over the years, my weekly routine of plant maintenance.

In fact the only relief that I've had from my seemingly nonstop regimen has been the five-plus inches of rain that arrived this past weekend. Apparently there was a deluge in northern New Mexico also - the online version of the paper reports total year-to-date rainfall as of today at 1.62 inches - an eleven percent increase in just two weeks!

Still I don't think the newfound moisture will do much to mitigate the extreme differences in horticultural practices between these two regions. So here are my conclusions.

In the southwest pretty much nothing blossoms by itself, so gardening in that region consists almost entirely of planting a small number of flora and nurturing them - in other words growing plants. Key concepts = drip irrigation and incredible patience.

The vast majority of Joa's considerable property is classic native high desert - lots of dry white dirt, a few prickly pear cactus, and several low-growing juniper & pinyon pines (easily distinguishable from each other because, due to drought-induced stress and bark beetle infestations, most of the latter are dead). Can you say NO MAINTENANCE?

Her several separate garden areas are close to the house and connected by a complex network of self-installed, system-controlled, narrow drip hoses. While we were house-sitting, her Irises were flowering and lettuce was beginning to appear above the ground. The other homegrown vegetation - each of them likewise a stop on the drip railroad - looked green and full of promise. In addition there were three pots of annuals that we were asked to hydrate each morning with some of the leftover water from the dog's outdoor pails.

In the northeast pretty much anything will not only sprout but actually flourish, so gardening back here in CT is principally composed of eliminating or cutting back what you don't want, in order to see what you do - also known as fighting an insurgency. Key concepts = pruning shears and the ability to remove the same unwanted, invasive plant from the same place over and over and over again, and still feel like you are actually doing something.

Which is exactly what I've been up to.

Our organic lawn care service doesn't get rid of all the broadleaf weeds from our yard so I use my trusty snake-tongue weeding tool to purge the area of the dreaded dandelions and others of that ilk.

Our several perennial beds have filled in nicely over the years, but still, even with shoulder-to-shoulder Hostas and blossom-to-blossom irises seemingly hogging all of the vertical space, ground-ivy, grass and other weeds still somehow pop their irritating little heads into the picture. I rip them out and toss them away.

I also spend a lot of time eliminating:

- the armada of False Dragons given to me by former club member Harvey Miller (he swore they were Cardinals) that spend their entire growing season attempting to overrun and smother the Daisies, Rubekia, real Cardinals and other butterfly attractors I am trying to grow in that garden.

- and the Tansy, given to me by my friend Judy, that arose from basically nothing to a height of seven feet and a width of four feet at least three times last year - and which this year, after having been totally removed, has reached about half of its previous size in the first few weeks of the season.

- and the Flowering Crab branches, again from trees that have been eliminated from my landscape, that continue to pop up everywhere in my yard.

- and the patches of sunflowers growing from bird seed with the help of its mobile ingestors.

Then there are those really annoying orange weeds with flowers shaped like lanterns that actually aren't called Japanese Lanterns, even though they look like they should be, because a Japanese lantern is really a Plumeria with huge pendulous clusters of red flowers, and our "flowers" don't look at all like that but rather look like the paper Japanese lanterns especially in the autumn when they loose their color and become pale and translucent - well anyway they were also given to me by a club member (I don't remember who) but the damn things just keep coming back year after year and popping up everywhere (like the floor of the office on the second floor and the trunk of the car) and they're going to take over everything no matter how often I rip them out, and stomp on them, and stomp on them, and....

Sorry, I think that I just need to sit down, take a deep breath, and center myself. And then move to New Mexico and do some gardening that involves actually growing things.

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