Grow Write Guild: A Spring Day


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It’s been interesting to see how differently people react to the Grow Write Guild prompts. Some people say they’re too easy; others too hard. I’m behind schedule with my responses and was very tempted to throw in a super easy one for number 4, but I promised myself from the start that I would not write prompts to suit my own needs. Falling behind is not the end of the world. That said, I do have a simple one in mind for the near future. It just didn’t feel like the right time to pull it out.

I didn’t find number 3 particularly difficult to do. I’m late because I was feeling lazy and didn’t feel like writing it. However, I did enjoy taking the pictures.

Grow Write Guild Prompt #3: Describe your garden right now.

Stand in one spot in your garden and describe what you see in front of you. Turn to your right. Describe what you see there. What’s behind you? Your left side? What is underneath your feet? What do you see above your head?

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Dry Bed Garden

The bed beneath my feet is a dry one, although it is not dry as I write this (at least not in the traditional sense of the word). No, it is dripping and dewy from the spring rain that has been coming down since last night. At the time that I stood in the garden to take these pictures it was a soft mist that refreshed my face (and the plants). When the sun comes out next the plants will burst growth and the garden I am about to describe will have already changed again.

I hoped to write this without judgment, but I am already failing. The first thing that catches my eye is the Opuntia humifusa directly beneath my feet. It is showing some kind of rust, an indication that the soil did not drain well enough through the winter months and proof positive that despite the sandy soil, I should have built the bed up higher before planting. I should have added more pea gravel. I should have. I should have…

And I would have, had I thought of it before planting dozens of scrubby, resinous lavender and several fierce and prickly cacti. Before I scattered the beautiful ‘Buttercream’ California poppy seed and worked about a hundred-odd allium bulbs into the soil. Before I went to the trouble of acquiring rental car after rental car in order to go get yet another load of heavy pea gravel and then hauled the bags of pea gravel into the yard and then washed the pea gravel before carefully spreading it all as mulch over the bed and around each plant before then only to find myself, some months later (again and again), pulling the pea gravel aside in order to plant another scratchy cacti or fuzzy sempervivum and then, carefully still, sifting the sandy soil away from the pulled aside pea gravel in order to then lay it back onto the surface, carefully, delicately.

Had I had a plan. Had the whole idea of an expansive rocky dry garden been clear to me BEFORE it came to be. Before the planting and the replanting, the digging, the sifting, the shifting of pea gravel, and the recent (again unplanned) expansion that just came to me one afternoon. Had I not been as spontaneous (impulsive) as I sometimes (often) tend to be. As I need to be. Had I been the sort of gardener who works things out on paper with precision and who draws up accurate designs rather than the sort of gardener who makes a few rough sketches on scraps of paper (and then loses them) and then later asks, “Now, what was that crazy idea I had again?” Were I the sort of gardener who waits for the crazy idea to come back to mind (or the lost scraps of paper to resurface underneath a pile of random plant tags, empty coffee cups, and seed packets on my desk) before going ahead and digging in impatiently and letting it all happen as it happens. Were I not such a believer in serendipity and “letting your unconscious reveal itself” and “liberating myself from the tyranny of perfectionism.

Were I not messy me.

dry bed april13

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To be fair, I see other things, too. I see all of my favourite alliums poking their leaves out though the rubble. I see that they have reproduced and that soon there will be even more crazy, firecracker looking things (Allium schubertii) to add to my collection of dried seed heads indoors. I see the monarda returning with a vengeance and the lavender looks happier than I had hoped. Both should provide a nice supply of fresh flowers for eating.


I see beautiful hawkweed (Hieracium) leaves beginning to unfurl, revealing their spotted, burgundy patterns. The blue/green dianthus continues to spread its spiky blanket across the open spaces. This particular type produces pretty magenta flowers that have an unexpected sweet, mellow clove-like flavour. I hope that it will eventually envelope the clay head I have placed there.


Here too comes the Lamb’s Ear (Stachys byzantina ‘Big Ears’). I almost prefer it as it is now, its leaves still tight and so pretty dressed up in dew. It can be a little unruly by mid-summer and I find that I have to stay on top of removing dead foliage in order to increase airflow and prevent disease.


This is Fritillaria meleagris is the crowning glory of the dry bed right now. These delicately patterned blooms are at the top of my list of favourite springtime flowers and I have been longing to grow them for years. This was the first bud to open from a handful that I planted in the fall, a gift from my friend Barry’s garden.

There is a lot going on right now just in this bed alone. And while some has gone wrong, much more has gone right. Truth be told, it was a lot of fun getting here, to this place where the Opuntia humifusa is rusty. And when I think on it, I wonder if I ever would have learned that Opuntia humifusa can suffer from a rusty fungus like mint, had I not been so impulsive. Had I not kind of screwed it up. And then I wonder, too, if I am not over-stating my error just a little. Everything else in the garden is doing fine and this particular plant did not suffer any disease the previous year (which was much drier). This problem could have been prevented by constructing a tent over the cacti during the winter to keep excess snow from building up. I recently bought some new hardy cacti from the woman I bought from last year and I noticed that some of her plants also suffered from a light dusting of rust. I probably wouldn’t have noticed it on her plants had my own plants not suffered from it this year.

It’s all learning. Perhaps I will dig it all up and start again, or perhaps the plants will recover and I will have forgot all about it by July.

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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