While I was gardening

The art of gardening and the science of life.

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A small drop from a flood.


After almost 30 years of relentless, painful struggle, it arrived.  It didn’t arrive with angels singing, tears flowing, or joyous laughter.  No waves of overwhelming emotion.  It didn’t happen with great insight.  No profound understanding preceded it, just weeks of such fatigue that I slept ten or more hours each day.  It may have been a result of hard work, dedicated thinking, persistent meditation and prayer, or just exhaustion.  But the fact remains, I don’t really know how I forgave or the exact time that it occurred.  It just happened.

I realized I had forgiven with the noticeable absence of the many oppressive, unhappy memories that had accompanied me for the majority of my adult life.  I realized that those feelings and memories of sadness, confusion, and hopelessness had dissolved.  It may have taken months or years, or just an instant.  I don’t know.  It doesn’t matter.  Quiet, benign indifference best describes what this forgiveness feels like, followed by the sincere belief that those experiences simply don’t matter anymore.  They are as remote as the 3 individuals who created the harm.

The injury is gone.  The damage is repaired.

And that’s all there is to forgiving.



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July Theme: Water

A Rainy Day Walk.

Gray is nuanced.  It is layered in colors with hesitant margins.  It falls to earth as it climbs to sky and is invisible in-between.

Gray is timid and overlooked.  It smells of dust and is soft as cotton.  On skin it trickles down through sweat and salt, and calms tension between so many small lines.  It washes away irritation in unbroken chains and settles in mirrored pools.

Gray reflects all it surrounds but holds color deeply buried.  Look down, look close, every shade of blue and green will fill your eyes and fill the space above you.

Earth is thirsty.  Gray rests upon its surface, patient and persistent, then devoured in greedy gulps.  The soothing fall of measured drops are almost a tease – something more may come this way.

I walk home covered in gray, through gray shadow and reflection, following gray streets and beige grass. Shots of red and purple and orange lean over in the gray – not as defiant as when standing in sun.

This gray is welcome and enjoyed.  Welcome, as long as it turns to blue.

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July Theme: Water


Recently, I’ve been waking in the early morning hours, usually between 3 – 4 a.m.  A pleasant quiet fills the room – as perceptible as the soft quiet created by early morning snowfall.  Unusually quiet.  Quiet enough to wake someone from a deep sleep, quiet enough to realize the raccoon is sitting in the deck fountain again.

Have you noticed similarities between water and happiness?  Both have multiple states – water manifests in ice, liquid, or gas; happiness shows in laughter, smiles, or touch.  Both exhibit energy through movement – both flow through, around, under, and over obstacles.  Both are essential ingredients for life and both help sustain energy.  Both are described using verbs; waves, flow, drops, or floods.  Both erode other substances or states – water breaks rock into minerals and happiness dissolves sadness into dust.  And both offer relief from harmful conditions; water offers relief from drought and happiness offers relief from depression.

I offer water to the creatures who share my garden; I offer happiness to the people who share my life.

All other offerings flow from both.

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Collecting Water

So far this summer, gardeners in the Pacific Northwest have been lucky.  A few days and nights of rain have come our way and our temperatures have been moderate.  Last year at this time we were deep into drought and suffering through multiple heat-waves.  By this time last summer my rain barrels were empty and I had two raised beds full of vegetables and 7 large container gardens demanding water.  In addition, I was growing annuals to use for a July wedding.  Out of necessity I began collecting water from sources I hadn’t used in the past.  Some of those sources I will discuss here.

  1. Water used for washing fruits and vegetables can be collected and used for your garden.  Keep a large bowl in your kitchen sink at all times to collect this water.  Water from steaming vegetables or used for cooking foods other than meats can be used in your garden, also.
  2. If you let water run until warm before you shower or bath, that water can be collected and used for gardening.  I keep a bucket near the shower at all times for this purpose.  The slight inconvenience of removing the bucket before using soap and shampoo is offset by the extra water available for plants.
  3. If you have a fish pond or water feature that uses biological filters that need to be cleaned periodically, the water used for cleaning those filters should be given to your plants.  They will love you for it!
  4. Of course, rain barrels are a great source of extra water for your ornamental plants whether they are in ground or in containers.  I don’t use rain barrel water for food crops, but this water can be used for all other plants.
  5. Last, and this idea may not be to everyone’s liking, I pour left-over coffee and tea sans milk and/or sugar into the bowl I keep in my kitchen sink for water collection.  This practice doesn’t contribute much volume to my water collecting, but it does add up over a day and my Ericaceous plants, and some ferns, seem very happy with the extra boost.

I am sure you have found water-collecting practices that work for your garden.  At this time, we don’t have the ability to collect all the grey water produced here but we do use some, specifically rinse water from washing dishes.  As climate change progresses and the Pacific Northwest experiences more periods of drought, these practices can help alleviate some of the stress our landscapes will experience.

After all, every drop counts.

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July Theme: Water

Every Drop Counts:

The quality of your soil determines the health of your garden.  In urban settings, soil experiences destabilization frequently.  Compaction, desiccation, and flooding are some of the most common conditions that effect soil, while harmful practices such as excessive tilling, removing plant debris from soil surface, walking on wet soil, and use of fertilizers contribute to those conditions.  Healthy soil will absorb large quantities of water without puddling and flooding; it will have a loose, friable structure which allows ease of movement for roots and exchange of gasses; it will support the microorganisms and fungi necessary for plant health; it makes nutrients readily available to plants; and it will sequester large amounts of carbon.  And once your soil is working at optimum health, your work load will decrease noticeably.

The following are just a few steps to guide you through the soil-building process, and help you grow resilient plants that it will sail smoothly through our increasingly dry summers and autumns, and exceedingly wet winters, with ease.

  1. Don’t rake your garden beds! Leave plant debris on the soil surface where it falls.  Unless the plant material is extremely diseased or damaged by some chemical application, leave it on the surface where it can become part of the natural process of decomposition.  If the debris looks too messy to you, cover it with a thin covering of mulch or – as I’ve said before – lower your standards.
  2. Mulch your garden beds a minimum of twice per year, or more often if your soil is in poor condition. The benefits of mulch can’t be overstated; it keeps roots cool in summer, conserves soil moisture, as it breaks down it feeds the millions of microorganisms that build and sustain plant health, it prevents some weed seeds (but not all) from germinating and makes those weeds that do grow much easier to pull, it minimizes or prevents damage from freeze/thaw cycles, it prevents soil erosion, and mulch alleviates the need for fertilizers.
  3. Choose a few nitrogen-fixing plants to add to your garden. Plants such as Lupine, clovers, American or Japanese Wisteria, some Ceanothus, and many other plants appropriate for home gardens will fix nitrogen in the soil.

What does healthy garden soil have to do with water?  As gardeners in the Pacific Northwest have witnessed during the past decade, our summers and autumns become dryer and warmer with each year.  Water in the western United States has always been scarce, and often the cause of conflict between communities.  As human population grows and more demands are made upon our rivers, streams, and water sheds, these conflicts will increase and our undeveloped, wild areas will experience even more drought damage.  Maintaining healthy soil will decrease your need to water your garden by as much as half in summer and autumn.  Healthy soil retains moisture longer than poor soil, it absorbs more rain during downpours than poor soil, because plants grown in healthy soil have deeper and more extensive roots they live through drought conditions much easier than otherwise, and are much less disease-prone.

It is often said that good gardening begins with the soil.  With healthy soil your plants will be happier, your workload will decrease, and your need for supplemental water will become less each year.  It’s a win-win for all involved.

In my next post, I will explore ways to capture water used at home for use in your garden.