Friday, July 4, 2008

Square 1...Again

When I began my full entry into gardening in North Dakota in the early 90s, I worked toward the creation of a lovely English Cottage Garden wrapping loving arms around our little house on our small city lot.

Perhaps, the memory of Roses and flowering plants of my early years in Northeast Missouri created a template I deeply yearned to follow. But it seemed deeper than that. Perhaps, the distant memories of my English Ancestors were calling to me. Perhaps, I somehow had a memory of the magical Gardens my little German Grandmother Matilda Brenz created on the northwest side of Kirksville before I was born. I now have a picture of her garden which I find enchanting.

I just knew at some deep level I had to have an English Cottage Garden. I could see the image I desired to create: a non-stop show of plants taking turns to bloom. Richard and I went to all lengths to create it. In those days, I was long on a sense of physical powers and a little short on smarts. We forgot something very important: Ask Nature.

Let me give an example, but 1st, we need a little background. Our Little House in eastern North Dakota was situated in gardening Zones 3/4, which means it gets very cold. Let me repeat: Very Cold. The coldest we ever saw was -40 Fahrenheit and -104 Wind Chill Index. Yikes. Summers were usually moderate, but it could get very hot too. The hottest we ever saw there was +104. Plus, variations in rainfall and extreme winds were very taxing on plants. Imagine being a plant and standing outside in these elements. It sort of makes we Humans look a little pitiful in our climate controlled boxes with our puffy clothes .

Among other things, my plan for an English Cottage Garden included 108 Gorgeous Hybrid Tea Roses (Gorgeous in catalogs or trendy magazines). In case you do not know much about Hybrid Tea Roses (I had a Front Row Seat in that category), North Dakota is out of range. That means: If Grandmother Earth intended Hybrid Teas in the Red River Valley of the North, She would have placed them there to greet us when we arrived. She didn't.

That simple fact of Nature meant Richard and I were in for a ton of work and expense. You could call it swimming upstream. It meant for us: nasty chemicals (which we reluctantly used), the "Minnesota Tip Method" (Fall Routine: Cut back each Rose Plant, dig trench beside Rose, lay over Rose Plant in trench so as to protect roots, bury plant in soil with layer of mulch; Spring Routine: Remove mulch and soil when frost is out of ground, bring Rose Plant carefully upright, gently place soil around Rose for yet another growing season-if it survived), watch roses get sick and die, replace roses. (Were we nuts?)

As a Teacher and Learner, I knew firsthand that to Learn I had to pay attention. I was focused on the Human Plan, My All Important Plan. I wasn't paying attention to Nature's Plan. The fact that climate posed life threatening circumstances to my Roses was at 1st beyond my comprehension.

After that 1st year of installation, some Roses were beautiful for a while. Some hung on. But they were susceptible to diseases and pests. Others died, becoming barren sticks in the yard. All died eventually.

Fortunately, Nature had placed a Gardening Mentor across the street. Marcia Melberg, a Gardener Extraordinaire, believed that if plants needed extraordinary means of life support, they did not belong there. Instead of Hybrid Teas, she had gorgeous Old Varieties of Extremely Hardy Roses. Her gardens featured non-stop show with considerably less work and expense.

And so we found ourselves at Square 1. We had put all that work and expense in our yard, and we were starting over. Yes, we did.

Over time, we replaced the plants in our yard with hardy and Native varieties. Our yard smiled. The Native Birds, Butterflies, and Insects also found our yard. Some birds even deposited Native Seeds. Yes, there still was work. But it was a lot more fun.

And here we are on this little Farm with 1 year of experience of gardening in these parts. When I think of this I sort of hang my head with a bit of shame. And now it is becoming with an even larger version of laughter.

We came here with Grand Plans for Gardening after not even living here. We purchased a list of seeds a yard long. I developed some stunning plans on paper. We still didn't and don't know much about soils, insects, diseases, weeds. But we are learning.

To top it off, Nature threw us another variable this year that even the Locals find challenging. The Spring has been unusually cool and wet. Plus we had 10 inches of rain in 5 days last week. Garden soils turned to the consistency of chocolate pudding. The plants generally are doing OK. But some are not happy. The coming days will mark a period as to what will thrive and what won't.

Once again, we are back to Square 1. We had some resistance admitting this. We thought we knew so much. Nature has a plan. We just were not paying attention. Again. We are now.

Studying and embracing Nature's Plan as our own is definitely a long term process. We will give it all we have to give. Step by step, we will get there. How will we know we have arrived? It will be in the big and little lessons we learn along this path. You could call it those moments of light that illuminate those steps along the path.

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