March 20, 2008

A Garden: More Than a Space

When I began my garden in January of 2006, I was doing it for me. It was a totally selfish self indulgence. It never occurred to me the effect it would have on the neighborhood, or on my family. I didn't anticipate the memories it would hold.

My yard has definitely become a focal point of the neighborhood. People stop to tell me how lovely it is. They wave at me. Sometimes they tell me about gardens they have known. In the fall, they stop by to get pears from my back yard.

This is the first year these daffodils have bloomed. My daughter Jennifer and her children helped me to plant them. Whenever I walk past that flower bed, I remember that we planted the irises and daffodils in this bed together. To me, that memory is stronger than it would be just looking at a photo.

The garden has also played an integral part in the visit with my grandchildren this week. It has been a year and a half since Jen and her children have been able to make it down from Kansas. I anticipated the children playing video games all day long, which is what they have done in the past. Instead, they have spent many hours playing outside in the yard. One of the highlights for my grandson Jeffery was finding a gecko when he dismantled my gecko castle, a stack of bricks on one side of the yard. To me, it has felt like I have been able to give them a piece of my own childhood, a taste of days gone by. But then, if we are living them now, they aren't gone, are they!

This afternoon, to my surprise, the garden once again played a central part in the day. We had an egg hunt for the children this afternoon, because Jen has to leave in the morning. What better place to hide eggs than in a garden! The children were scampering all over the yard. It was a delightful experience.

Another Reason for Gardening Organically

Yesterday I called home right after one of my grandsons had fallen into a bowl of diatomaceous earth sitting on the porch. He had heard his Uncle Walt refer to it as poison, and he was panicking. He thought he was going to die.

Instead, it became the basis for a science lesson on diatoms. I had thought they were microscopic animals. Turns out they are algae. I think I will have to look into this more. They are beautiful! Could be as interesting as the photos of snowflakes.

I will never forget the first time I saw one of Snowflake Bentley's photos in a copy of National Geographic. I was absolutely fascinated.

At any rate, the diatomaceous earth - dried diatoms - is very helpful in combating fire ants. Whenever I put it on a mound, they go away. Of course, they often just move to another part of the yard. I've been considering sprinkling it over the entire yard to encourage the ants to think of this as a hostile environment; but I'm not sure what effect it would have on other insects.

How grateful I am that I garden organically, and therefor my grandson had nothing to fear.

Fire Ant Invasion

Yikes! The fire ants have invaded!

Last fall, we put up a plastic greenhouse over a plumeria and an angel trumpet. Then we forgot to turn on the heater when it froze. Oh well. The plants didn't fare so well.

Nevertheless, the fire ants thought that greenhouse was just a dandy hideout. I looked in a few days ago to see a huge mound of fireants.

Then today, when I was walking through the garden with my daughter, she pointed out to me that the ants had moved into a freshly dug flower bed, where I had just planted azaleas. Never in my life have I seen what looked like a colony of new ant beds. There must have been 100+ openings to new little mounds.

Needless to say, it was time to get out the diotamaceous earth. Tom applied it liberally to the entire area. I sure hope it works!

Spring Has Sprung

Last night my son Walt commented that my front yard garden looked beautiful, even though there wasn't much blooming yet. I said I agreed with him. We both thought that it was the fact that I had it well groomed, with weeds pulled, and all the rose bushes pruned.

These pictures are from last year, but they show the basic layout of the front yard. My hispanic neighbors have begun calling me, "la seƱora de las flores," i.e. "the flower lady".

It is pretty amazing to me that two years ago there was nothing but grass and weeds in the yard. After my first year of planting, installing flower beds, etc. - someone told me, "You won't realize until several years from now what you have accomplished." I am beginning to understand what they meant. The plants are beginning to "own" the yard. The birds, and the little critters, are beginning to recognize it as a refuge. I no longer feel a need to move to the country - because the country has come to me!

Garden Origins

I always wanted to live in the country. I've always lived in the city. For years I dreamed of what I would plant, what I would do when I moved to the country. Then, in early winter of 2006, my husband of 38 years said, "It's never going to happen. We are never moving to the country. I never knew you wanted to do that."

I was in shock! How could this man I had lived with for so many years not know this was a passionate desire of mine? I remembered sharing my thoughts with him on many occasions. I guess, bottom line, he just never got it that I was serious - possibly because he didn't want to. At any rate, my response was, "Okay. The yard is mine. I'm going to create a park."

So - that is how my garden began. I went outside that day, and began digging up my front yard, removing the Bermuda grass and the weeds. I bought a tiller, and plowed up my yard. I brought in bag after bag of compost, greensand, lava sand, dry molasses and cornmeal. I fought the Battle of the Weeds. It was a joy to share with my mother the progress I was making. She was so excited about my garden and always asked me to bring pictures, though she really couldn't see them.

That summer, my mother died, and I also began a project of scanning many albums of old family photos. As I did, I made a new connection to my ancestors, people who were connected to the soil. I especially loved this photo of my grandmother, the woman on the far left, working outside with her sisters. Her name was Katherine Louise Henriksen Erickson. It was from this woman that I experienced unconditional love. I remembered how much I loved the garden my parents used to tend in Watertown, South Dakota.

I also discovered, within the family albums, some great "touch the earth" pictures from my father's side of the family. I was amazed that with the help of a scanner, I was able to take original photos that were only 2 1/2 inches wide, hone in on a 1 inch segment, and blow it up into a good quality photo. Then, using Adobe Photoshop, I was able to touch up the photos, removing defects.

It felt like touching the past, and I connected with my roots in a profoundly deep way. In the picture to the right my father Walter Clarence Beglau, the child on the far right, stands on a tractor in a field in Judd, North Dakota with several of his siblings, his mother Katherine Fregin Beglau, and some other folks who I expect are cousins and aunts. I began to see that their farming was a family affair.

As I continued working in my own garden, I remembered Mom's homemade dill pickles, rhubarb pies, and playing King of the Mountain on the pile of dirt by the rhubarb plants. I imagined being out on the Dakota plains in the early 1900's gardening, not by choice, but by necessity. I imagined what my relatives would have thought of my little tiller.