Saturday, November 14, 2009

She Who Bats Last...

Even the most dedicated gardener can grow weary of all those colors and fragrances that constantly surround him and of the omnipresent green aura that encircles his world. Especially when he is constantly working his buns off to make it that way.

Sometimes you just need to get away from it all, and go to the desert.

Marsha and I have been going to New Mexico for more than fifteen years. We love to immerse ourselves in the infertile, dry, tan-colored dirt and sands. It's the all-natural opposite of our manmade quest for horticultural perfection.
This was our first early September visit. And this time the dry, unfruitful land was virtually overrun with a large variety of totally unplanned, fully blooming, floral vegetation. Nature had arranged its flowerbeds more sparsely than an over-eager eastern gardener with equally over-eager plants might have done. But the lack of green competition such as grass and deciduous trees allowed these widely dispersed floral pockets to stand up and shout more loudly than even the most overstuffed New England perennial garden ever could.

Who knew?
Some plants looked vaguely familiar, like attempted wild replicas of favorite domestic standards -- which is of course the exact opposite of the real story. Cleomies were spindlier, with smaller flowers, than their cultivated cousins. Asters were singular rather than bushy. Sunflowers appeared as delicate sun drops on anorexic stems.

But mostly there was chamisa.
This desert-loving, narrow-leaved, four foot tall, deciduous shrub with pungent, yellow flowers totally dominated the landscape. It grew unabated -- on undeveloped land, in private yards, and up against the roads with its branches drooping down onto the traffic. Homeowners posted "DO NOT MOW!" signs on their mailboxes in an organized effort to thwart the municipality's gas powered grim reapers from eradicating it. The updrafts caused by passing cars dispersed flaxen pollen onto the nearby ground -- a twenty-first century improvement on wind dispersal plant propagation. And visiting New England gardeners restrained their basic pruning instincts in deference to the "if it grows at all, let it be" ethos of the Santa Fe horticultural community.

Meanwhile back home in Wethersfield our own flora-culture had already begun its annual end of the season dance of death.

In order to survive from year to year the perennial plants in our neck of the woods "harden off" by either (a) dropping their foliage, halting photosynthesis, and reducing moisture loss, or (b) dying down to ground level and sheltering new buds in the earth until spring arrives.

The results, while momentarily colorful and flashy, ultimately leave the New England topography looking as ugly as sin and as ashen as death -- stripped of its flowers and its emerald ambience.

And what can we plantsmen extraordinaire, who have poured our blood, sweat, time, and tears (plus more than a few dollars) into the creation and maintenance of this Eden-like landscape do, to prevent this wanton usurpation of our agricultural authority?

Not a thing, not anything, nil, zero, naught, zilch, zip, nada, diddly-squat, squat.

Environmentalist Rob Watson says, "Mother Nature always bats last, and she always bats a thousand."

If you don't believe it, go to the desert. Or just wait a few weeks and look out your window.

(Photos by Mars)

No comments: