Photo by Davin Risk
Sigh. This view of my roof garden from the door feels a million miles away today.
Remember summer? Yeah, me neither. If not for photographic evidence I would have to assume these so-called memories are in fact only beautiful delusions. I know many of you in the Southern Hemisphere are in the midst of it so you will have to excuse my mid-winter pity party. Over the last few days the temperature has plummeted to an unbearable, and therefore unacceptable bone-chilling cold. Unbearable I tell you!! I held out for two full days hunkering down indoors without stepping foot outside until today when I had no choice but to suck it up, put on as many layers as possible and face it. Even worse, our Taste of Summer life-sustaining preserves are rapidly depleting: the red pepper katsup is no more (good-bye delicious sauce!) and I just opened the final jar of Blackened Salsa Ranchera.
Not to be dramatic, but people are dying over here!
See you in 5 months July, wherein you can expect to find me complaining about the heat.
So I was gonna hold off on this one until it hit new stands but it looks like Organic Gardening Magazine let the cat out of the bag early and has published an article I wrote for the Feb 2008 issue (“Grow Where You Are Planted”) on their website.
I really enjoyed writing this article. When they approached me about writing a piece the timing was good — I had been itching to write about the topics covered and needed the impetus to get off my butt and do it. It’s a short piece briefly outlining my overall experiences as an urban gardener. The article also addresses outsider feelings I have struggled with since entering the world of garden writing and publishing as a career: Where and how do I fit in to this world of gorgeous, expansive gardens, expensive hardscaping, and quaint early-life garden experiences? Since writing the first book, several interviewers have asked about my childhood and early experiences with gardening. I have stammered and fallen over myself every single time. There is no easy answer to this question. There certainly are informative early experiences but my feeling has often been that the answer they are looking for is not one I can provide. And as far as how do I fit into this world, well it seems that in every category possible I stick out like a sore thumb. I did not have quaint early childhood gardening experiences, there were no early-life mentors, I live in a small apartment, I have only lived in a house with an actual backyard for 3 brief moments through the course of my entire life, I still consider myself to be lower to barely lower-middle class, I have never owned land, I don’t drive a car, I do not have a degree in horticulture (I studied Fine Arts), I have a terrible potty mouth… shall I continue? When attending garden shows and giving presentations I have rarely felt comfortable with the other “Gardening World Celebrities” and have always felt a bit like an impostor accidentally admitted to the Country Club. It’s not a feeling of inferiority or insecurity so much as a feeling of strangeness and difference. And a feeling that sooner or later that membership is going to be revoked.
It has taken some time but I’ve finally hit on an answer to this issue that I bring up in the course of the article. The answer is in the tagline I’ve been using for this site over the last few years, “Gardening for the People.” I’ve been living out the answer all along. I just needed to get there in my own head, for myself, in a new way. Gardening is not just a homogeneous experience in which rich white people with big floppy hats and sparkling teeth increase their social standing and property value through proper plant and rock placement. Gardening is for all of us. Gardening is for anyone who loves plants, or wants to grow food, or thinks flowers are pretty. Gardening is for anyone who is scared to try but who wants to give it a go. We all come to this from different places, different backgrounds, different experiences (and experience levels), and different interests. My life is complicated. Your life is complicated. I’d wager a solid bet that the seemingly quaint life of every single “Gardening World Celebrity” is also complicated.
In the end I don’t care how different we are. The only thing we need to have in common is the love. And even that isn’t a prerequisite.
Check out the article here or see it in the February 2008 issue of Organic Gardening magazine.
All photos by Derek Powazek
I first came across the work of Derek Powazek online about 10 years ago when I was working as a graphic designer in the interactive department of The Place That Shall Not Be Named. Derek’s retired online public complaints machine Kvetch.com was a touchstone to sanity for me, a place where I could find solace in the sane (and sometimes not-so-sane) ramblings of others slogging away in poorly managed cubicle communities across the globe or post my own discontent. You may have heard about Derek via one or more of the myriad of awesome projects he has spawned since including the recently relaunched Fray, SF Stories, and JPG magazine. The self-described Author, Designer, and Troublemaker is internet famous as the online storytelling guy; he loves to tell stories and is always coming up with new ways to get you to tell yours.
But over the years he has dropped hints of a behind-the-scenes interest in plants. When he recently posted a series of photos showing the assortment of gorgeous and incredibly healthy orchids he is not only keeping alive but prompting to bloom in his San Francisco apartment, I knew there was more there than a passing interest in a couple of houseplants named Fred. Derek graciously agreed to entertain my questions about his orchid interest and success.
I desperately need to clean up my rooftop garden. Desperately. Double desperately. It’s horrible how long I’ve let it got this year really. The warmer Fall temperatures were wonderfully evil and I just went with it pretending that Fall would continue forever. I rewarded myself for cleaning up at the community garden so early this year. I can put it off a little longer, I said. It will be just like last year, I said. There will not be snow until January and by then everyone will be freaking out and talking about the blooming crocus and dandelion flowers and how the end of the world is neigh and it won’t matter that some of the pots weren’t empty or that the strawberries never did get replanted from the big pot into the ground.
And now I am in this dilemma. It has already snowed. The ground is probably frozen. I say probably because I haven’t had the courage to check. I would take a picture and post it here for you to see what I am talking about but that would mean having to look and I can’t bear it. I avoid looking out there entirely preferring to pretend it doesn’t exist. From memory and the occasional tiny peek I do seem to recall an assortment of clay pots that are usually emptied, washed and put away by this time every year prior to this one. I’m pretty sure that tender Echeveria I’ve been over-wintering indoors for years is now dead. The shiso was never harvested. Lifeless bean stalks cling to string and a few remaining lantern-like tomatillos hang from leafless branches.
Today would be the perfect day to get out there and do it already. The sun is shining, the temperatures are above zero, and anything that was recently frozen is probably melted after yesterday’s torrential downpours. I could cut back the plants, remove and wash the terra cotta and be done with it. And I would be totally on it too, I really would, except that I have come down with a terrible cold complete with body aches and a nose that runs like a faucet. So instead I will go back to bed with a pile of hankies and a warm tea, putting those self-preserving powers of denial to work for one more day.
Garlic Shown: Stiff-neck which tends to be hardy and stores well over the long term.
Sitting down to write this, my first thoughts are to apologize for the slow down in updates recently. I consider writing to assure you that the slow down is merely a glitch in workload and I will not stop writing here during the winter season because gardening is a daily thing for me that does not stop it merely shifts with the seasons. While I’m at it I want to apologize for the header that still says “early Fall” when we all know it is proper Fall now. As I sit here a list of assorted lagging details run through my mind and I entertain the idea of apologizing for each one like something in the room that needs to be acknowledged before our relationship can move on. Or a clearing of my throat. “Ahem. Hi. Is this thing on?”
I wonder what it is about internet writing that brings that out? Is it the feeling of an informal and personable context? Is it the assumption that I am sitting down to speak directly to you and you back to me? When I sit down to write an article for a printed magazine I don’t think to begin with apologies and casual shout-outs. “So… Uh, sorry this is my first time writing for this magazine but you know how it goes, I had other stuff going on and insert excuse here. Before I kick this off I just want to say hey what’s up to so and so whom I met last week at such and such event.”
Okay, enough banter. Let’s talk about garlic.
I should preface these instructions by stating that I am not a garlic eater however I love to grow the plant. I think it is a beautiful plant worth growing regardless of personal taste, requires little effort to produce a good crop, is self-perpetuating (you can use this year’s harvest to produce next year’s crop) and it is especially useful as a pest repellent crop warding off insects like aphids and Japanese beetles. You can also crush garlic cloves in water and make an organic pest spray. Because garlic is easy to grow it also makes a good crop for trading with other food gardeners and friends.