Monday, September 10, 2018

City House Country House

When I lived in NYC, which has been most of my adult life, there was gardening to talk about. This may have been due to how little gardening was truly going on. There was time for talk, for idle thoughts, for chit chat. There was standing on the corner, taking waves and how you doin', little to the garden footprint but such large human imprint. There were complaints that people could relate to (really, diapers on the hydrangea, again?). Glitter faced prostitutes offering assistance, Russian emigres with effortless tongues, kids who saw onions in tulip bulbs, landlords with teeth to gnash, unskilled laborers who knew how to dance in a garden, familiar weeds, oceans and peas, garlic and sand, and the sticky, salted skin when the onshore turned in for the evening. There were myriad plots across countless yards, tree pits, sidewalk strips, and undeveloped dreams. People have a passion for growing things in the city because the passion is on parade, is persistently evident from the walk to the subway, from overtures to our agrarian past on highrise rooftops to the panacea of the hyper-local, from the artist-led food garden to that curious moment when enthusiasm ran wildly into a business growing food in your backyard. The city a counterpose to the garden, an architecture for the gardening posture, a context that convinces us that a garden is the cure when it is merely a salve.

I now garden in a different context, one that is younger to the white man, but has seen its share of rapaciousness. With enough trees around even I can convince myself that my place is not an island in a sea of suburban plant homogeneity and millions of acres of either corn or soy. The optimist will extend the metaphor to an archipelago, but little more. To garden on the scale of fifteen, even thirty acres is an arrogance, and so me at my most arrogant goes about gardening the woods, weeding the woods, fretting over the rising and falling water levels in various swamps and wetlands, watching opportunistic plants move rapidly into space available, making plans and haphazardly executing them. This is to say nothing of the vegetable growing, the cultivated gardens or lawn and shrubbery that make up much of the country house.

Despite all that is going on, all that there is left to do, I have come to accept that there is not much time to talk about it. Exposition is the garden work of the city house.


In defiance of this conceit, I offer a picture of the country house -its autumnal prairie-ish planting east and north of the studio. Now in its second summer, many new plants have begun to mature. The pollinating and predatory insects love it, although the birds enjoy the much simpler savanna-ish planting on the building's south side. The deer all too much love the woodland planting on the west side of the building, now under revision. 

This week I'm in the middle of expanding the prairie-ish as I restore our one thousand foot gravel driveway, a process that includes digging drainage swales alongside the drive, loose soil slopes covered in burlap, winter seeding and fall planting of woodland natives I'd started last spring, moving boulders to shore up one or two hundred square feet of new cultivated garden space, and a whole hell of a lot of 3/4" minus crushed red limestone spread by myself in a track loader that will then be compacted by Betsy with a vibratory plate.


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