Sunday, July 10, 2005

Garden Frolic

Caged Head
Originally uploaded by Rozanne.
Check out this disembodied head in a cage (click for larger view)! It was just one of the many, many cool, freaky, weird, wonderful, and whimsical sights on the Gardens of Natural Delights organic garden tour held today in the Portland metropolitan area. I have the naturally delightful gardener (and blogger) LeLo to thank for getting my ass out on the tour. If she hadn’t invited me—taking the risk that I might not be who I claim to be on my blog and instead be some guy named Bob who lives in his parents’ basement and changes his underwear once a month (if that)—to go on the tour I probably would have stayed home and weeded my own garden. Read on, and you will see how tragic a fate that would have been.

I walk around Portland a lot, so I already knew that I live in the midst of some world-class gardeners, but “walk-bys” tell only part of the story. The great thing about garden walks is that you get to visit the inner sanctum—usually the backyard. And the inner sanctum is where all the good stuff is (including refreshments!)

I have to start with “Nancyland,” the site of the caged head and a perfect example of why a walk-by is not sufficient. Nancyland’s front garden is indeed striking and I always pause and marvel at the mosaics laid into the sidewalks and the jungle-like profusion of plants that practically blot out the house. But today when I got the chance to head back into the inner sanctum I saw why the gardener/artist/creator calls her garden Nancyland—it’s a perfect expression of her personality. As we entered, Nancy pointed up at a plank with a Latin inscription and told us that it translated to “My garden kicks ass!” And it does--in a major way. Every nook and cranny is occupied with plants and/or art in the most glorious color combinations. There’s whimsy and inventiveness galore, from the rusted steel T-shirts hanging on a “clothes line” to the rusted bicycles being overtaken by viny vegetation. Lots of rusty things. Not everyone may like rust, but I do.

One of my favorite things was her stiletto planters. If you’ve got some old dyed-to-match bridesmaid shoes moldering away in the closet, why not repurpose them like this? I was also enamored of this extremely organic chair, made, I’m quite sure, from the windfalls from her corkscrew mulberry in the front garden. Very, very cool, although how comfortable or confident would you feel leaning back in such a chair?

“Organic” is the common denominator for all the gardens. Gurgling barrels of compost tea were on display at several, but for the most part the gardens were all very different. One was almost all fruit and vegetables and featured thousands, if not millions, of honeybees living in neatly stacked white beehives--and "Caution: Bee crossing" signs. Cool! Cool! Cool! There were also a good number of mason bees sealed up in their little wooden hollows. Note to self: Buy mason bee log! Another stop on the tour was a huge, rather formal Victorian garden that had no weeds. None. We looked—with a microscope. (OK not a microscope, but we did look very, very closely. There was a carelessly placed pack of cigarettes sitting on a shelf, so there was one thing detracting from its perfectness, but other than that....) It was there that I saw what has to be the most beautiful blue lacecap hydrangea on the planet. Fabulous and to die for. Our final stop was at a superquirky garden where the gardener claimed to have been gardening for 53 years, which we estimated would mean that he started gardening while still in the womb or—at the latest—as a toddler. I should have taken more pictures, but this is what the front of the garden looked like. It looks like most of it was hoised out of a river. This gardener’s claim to fame was his ability to cover every inch of soil with plant material and garden art. I think he succeeded quite well—if you don’t mind a few plastic and silk flowers here and there.

Upon arriving home, I felt elated and just a trifle deflated. I’d seen a ton of gorgeous and creative gardens and I couldn’t help but look at mine with a critical eye. My garden is very far from having every square inch of soil covered with plants and garden art; there are weeds and pests; I have no compost system in place, let alone the multiple systems some folks have; and I don’t have (and never will have) the eye for color, form, and structure that some of these incredible gardeners have. That’s OK, really. I know it’s ridiculous to measure my three-year-old garden against gardens that have been created by such talented and experienced gardeners. I’m over it now. And ready to start stealing adapting ideas.

UPDATE: (Check out the movie of the tour LeLo put up on her blog. Snazzy!)


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